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January, 2011

Historically, cost-effective recovery has been constrained by the limits of technology. Now it is possible to costeffectively recover more people via super connectivity and one seamless estate through virtual and physical environments. Here’s how to exploit new capability and benefits for a flawless recovery.

Calamity comes unannounced and undefined, making recovery planning a dicey exercise. Despite a careful calculation of the odds, it is nearly impossible to foresee what type of disaster will actually strike and what problems it will drag in its wake. Nevertheless, there are strategic steps that can preserve and protect the enterprise in nearly all scenarios. The key is to see mundane details as pivotal and to view complex business issues in orderly subsets of vital functions.
 
Unfortunately, many a company views recovery only in terms of the technological aspect. While it is true that technology has made recovery efforts far easier and more efficient than in years past, information
is only one part of a company’s total composition. In other words, retaining data through technological means alone will not save the enterprise overall. Retaining data does not equate to continuing full
operations unabated.
 
Alternately, there are companies that focus merely on the physical side of recovery believing the key to resuming profitable operations is more a matter of moving its people to a safer, yet still centralised, place. While in theory that sounds perfectly logical, it is often more perplexing in practice. Traffic can be frozen in place; road systems destroyed; water and food can be contaminated or in short supply; electrical power can be off for weeks or even months.
 
The problems then can range from how to move people to another company location to how they can work when they get there if there is no power, no water and no safety.
 
In short, both the technological and physical strategies are one-sided efforts that can fall victim to the most mundane of troubles.
 
The better strategy is to focus on how the business should actually operate during a disaster. Determine what precise business functions need to be restored first and in what order. Second, determine the core group of personnel you need to accomplish that directive. It is important to identify which personnel are most useful to your recovery in terms of technological skills and end customer experience. The ultimate goal is to retain customers and accommodate new customers who may arise during a crisis—if for no other reason than they cannot reach your competitors. It is therefore imperative to restore customer communications as fast as possible.
 
Connectivity, then, is crucial during a crisis. Even more so given the rise in the mobile workforce. The ability to connect to your data and telephony wherever you are recovering from is essential if you are going to give your customers a businessas- usual experience.
 
Otherwise, where do the inbound calls go? How are they managed? Customers will first notice that they can’t reach you. Make sure all channels of customer communications are resumed as fast as possible. Look for a vendor that provides connectivity across all channels and in spite of public utility outage.
 
Both the technology and physical parameters should be planned accordingly. The ultimate goal should be to plan recovery efforts with maximum flexibility and the least number of vulnerabilities.
 
Here are the best practice tips for disaster recovery efforts to succeed despite the circumstances of any given catastrophe:
  1. Think short and long-term 
    Most disasters are short-term events lasting on average seven to eight days but there is also the threat of disruptions that can last six to nine months or even longer. Your disaster recovery plan, therefore, should include an immediate phase, a short-term phase and a long-term phase. The ultimate goal is to achieve a seamless environment for customers and workers in all three phases.
     
  2. Keep customer communications open 
    Discern how your customers communicate with your company and plan now on how you will have those channels up and running as fast as possible. The longer communications are down, the more likely your customers are to become alarmed or lose faith in your company entirely. Look for a vendor that can provide complete communications using your company’s own phone numbers, website urls, email addresses, etc. Said vendor should have multiple trunks and redundancies to ensure telephony and internet connections are protected and viable.
     
  3. Ensure key employees can report in
    Ensure you have more than one method to reach key personnel during a disaster. Certainly cell phones are useful but they too are subject to cell tower damage and other technical problems. Therefore, have a minimum of three unrelated methods that employees can use to check in and get instructions.
     
  4. Ensure employee access to data
    Rather than depend on dongles, CDs and other physical hardware, consider using a disaster recovery vendor that provides a dark site—that is a web site that is not visible on the general internet and is not activated until a disaster occurs—where employees can check in to get instructions or access company information. Dongles and CDs and the like can be lost or simply be beyond reach if an employee cannot get to their office, home or car—or wherever they stored the item. Additionally, updating information on these tools is awkward and difficult to accomplish on a regular basis, even more so after a disastrous event. This means whatever data is stored on these tools is likely to be out-ofdate. By accessing a dark website, information is current and everything is accessible to the employee (according to their clearance level).
     
  5. Take a holistic approach
    Physical and virtualised desktop recovery environments have their limits. A combination of the two means you can minimise most known risks. Plan a physical disaster recovery site with travel routes and mass transportation in mind. Think hard about how your employees can get to the site before you choose a location. Expect the “perfect properties” to be unavailable as other companies will be looking for the same optimum sites. Instead, you may want to consider a vendor that has multi-tenant disaster recovery centres already built. Don’t stop there, however. Also plan how your people can work from home or while mobile. Adding the flexibility of fixed, remote and mobile workstation options will ensure the best outcome for your company.
     
  6. Choose standardised technologies
    Whether you build your own disaster recovery office or obtain one through a vendor, you want to use standardised technologies in your DR plan so that parts are easier to find and repairs are easier to make in an emergency environment. By comparison, many proprietary technologies add obstacles to recovery efforts. That is not to say you should choose simplistic technologies, however, as many of your business functions are complex. Rather, it is to say that, as a general rule, standardised technologies are the better choice for crisis management. You will also want technologies that pose no compatibility issues. Make sure your DR plan calls for standardised technologies for these reasons.
     
  7. Think employee retention
    Call centre agents and other typically low wage workers are often key to a company’s operations. However, low wage workers are hard to retain in the best times; harder still in times of disaster. The motivation to travel far from home, for example, is muted or absent. Or, other factors may affect these employees through no fault of their own. For example, babysitters and elderly care may not be available during a disaster, leaving the worker with few options. Plan for this by adding flexible work options. For example, you may want to allow these employees to work from home or from satellite workstations throughout the area rather than requiring all key employees to travel to a central location. Whatever you decide, plan it now and make the options and the processes known to key employees in advance.

When leading fund manager Genesis found it was regularly exceeding its storage allowance, it called on SunGard Availability Services’ consultancy team for help.

Vaulting contracts are based on estimated vault usage with additional use charged at reasonable rates. Having last reviewed its backup requirements in 2007, Genesis found that it was frequently exceeding the storage space to which it had subscribed. This resulted in excess charges but Genesis was understandably reluctant to upgrade to a larger, more costly storage allocation if this could be avoided.
 
SunGard consultants recommended that Genesis undertake a Vault Assessment to proactively manage vault content and data growth. This service provides a detailed analysis of data types, volumes and changes, giving Genesis a clear picture of its vault contents for the first time. The report revealed that Genesis had been storing 4.5Tb of unnecessary data, including redundant service packs and exchange recovery groups, which accounted for it exceeding its usage allowance.
 
Armed with the report, SunGard’s vaulting specialists were able to recommend tiering structures and develop a vaulting strategy for Genesis that meets its business needs. Genesis estimates that it has been able to eliminate between 25 and 40% of unwanted data as a result of the Vault Assessment, saving the firm thousands of pounds in excess charges each month. IT manager Colin Cloves says, “I found it a very valuable exercise—so much so that I’m considering doing it annually.” The relatively modest cost of the exercise has been recouped several times over by the savings in excess charges. Genesis is also benefiting from shorter backup and restore times, which will give them a head start in recovering from any business interruption in the future.

Customers depend on Office Depot, the global supplier of office products and services, to supply the business essentials they need when they need them. That’s why Office Depot relies on a range of recovery solutions from SunGard Availability Services to ensure it can continue to provide its usual high standard of service even if disaster strikes.

Office Depot contracts workplace positions at various SunGard Workplace Recovery Centres throughout the UK. These fully equipped, highly resilient sites give Office Depot access to all the technology and office accommodation it would need in the event it is unable to conduct business as usual from its own premises for any reason.
 
Sandra Witton, Business Continuity Manager, UK & Ireland, explains, “Hardware failure, power loss, fire and flooding are just some of the many threats that could cause business disruption. Customer service is of paramount importance to us so it is vital we are able to continue to remain in contact with customers and ensure they receive the office supplies they need, no matter what.
 
With SunGard’s support, Office Depot has the reassurance of knowing that if a major incident befalls its business, it will be up and running again within five hours. Office Depot considered several business continuity (BC) providers but ultimately chose SunGard as its partner because the two companies share similar values. According to Sandra, “We felt comfortable doing business with SunGard. Their ethos of integrity, professionalism and emphasis on customer service matches our own. This gave them the competitive edge.