Monthly Archives: November 2014

6 Essential tips for complete disaster preparedness

The impact of an unexpected disaster is simply immeasurable in the business world. While the obvious financial and operational implications of a crisis are immediate, the deep-seated repercussions of a natural disaster or human-induced error can echo throughout the organization for years – sometimes bringing on an early demise.

As the U.S. Small Business Administration articulated in its “Prepare My Business” initiative, preparedness must be engrained into the fabric of a business’ daily functions, not only in the IT department or the C-suite. After all, successful disaster recovery isn’t just an action plan – it’s a state of mind that must be shared by all.

To create a company culture with continuity in its DNA, decision-makers must put all the necessary measures in place, actively promoting a mindset of preparedness to ensure personnel and systems are ready for anything. Here are six tips that business leaders in any sector can apply to their organizations to strengthen their operations in the event of a worst-case scenario.

1. Create a continuity checklist: The building block of any continuity blueprint is a comprehensive and up-to-date checklist that compiles crucial business functions, key personnel and the tools needed to keep productivity buzzing. As a recent article from CRN suggested, this list can be the foundation for contingency plans including the identification of backup workstations, secondary communications platforms, employee alert systems and the chain of command in a disaster situation. In other words, the checklist is the road map that gives rise to the entirety of the continuity strategy.

“Leave no stone unturned when crafting a continuity checklist.”

Business leaders must not skimp on the details of this document – in fact, it’s always better to include a surplus of detail to make things unmistakably clear for everyone involved. That means locking down procurement channels for backup energy resources, office supplies and equipment and tailored requirements of specialized teams or departments. Leave no stone unturned on this crucial checklist.

2. Prioritize mission-critical systems: Decision-makers face many forks in the road when tasked with the creation of a disaster recovery strategy, especially when the conversation turns to IT. Simply put, not all applications, data and operating systems will be available for immediate restoration, no matter how advanced an organization’s systems may be. Leaders must identify which digital assets are truly essential to the continuation of business processes, and be willing to set other systems on the back burner. CRN spoke with David Van Allen, an IT expert with INetU, who reiterated this reality.

“Identifying business-critical functions, such as accounting, billing, ERP systems, is also crucial. Basic systems or processes must be restored to keep a business functioning,” Van Allen told the source.

3. Map out a clear plan of action: This is the bread and butter of a continuity strategy, and the crux of a business’s overall resilience when faced with a crisis. Unlike the checklist, which points out the important elements continuity, this plan must be expanded with clear-cut directions and requirements for every employee within the organization. This must include components such as the immediate course of action when disaster strikes, but also account for teleworking procedures and alternative workspace locations for the hours and days following an incident.

4. Involve every single stakeholder: Honoring client and customer relationships is a commonly overlooked aspect of continuity, and a major difference-maker in the competitive strength of an organization during a challenging period of operation. CRN recommended that keeping websites up and running during a disaster is a good way to stay in touch with key external stakeholders, but the best businesses will take communications to the next level with dedicated channels that ensure clients are kept in the loop.

Even if products or services aren’t readily available during a crisis situation, it’s crucial that a company actively and dynamically engages its customers support and provides a timeline for the immediate future.

Communication is a pivotal component of a business continuity plan.

5. Work closely with a provider: Even the most detail-oriented business leaders have blind spots when it comes to mapping out a continuity plan, which is why a dedicated service provider is utterly invaluable for complete preparedness. It’s easy to overlook minute details when checklists, DR blueprints and employee action plans are crafted entirely in-house, so bringing in a second set of eyes – especially those of a continuity expert – can fill in any glaring gaps in a strategy.

“I think that people in business sometimes try to plan for the worst and they actually underprepare as a result,” said Van Allen, as quoted by CRN.

6. Learn from mistakes with testing: All the planning in the world can’t offer the same level of insight that continuity test run, and every business must make a habit of regularly putting its strategy on trial. A test can instantly reveal any shortcomings, miscommunications or confusion regarding the strategy at large, and can offer much-needed assurance to stakeholders throughout the organization.

“Pick a day once a year, where Business Continuity Day is set aside so your whole business can activate the business continuity plan,” Van Allen told the source.

With each of these components deeply engrained into its overarching business outlook, a company will have a 360-degree approach to continuity that is built to last.

4 ways to expedite recovery time objectives

Recovery time objectives (RTOs) are to a company’s disaster recovery strategy what horsepower is to a car – it’s a core measurement by which the effectiveness of an engine is quantified. TechTarget defined RTO as “the maximum tolerable length of time that a computer, system, network or application can be down after a failure or disaster occurs,” highlighting its importance in the areas of DR and business continuity in general.

To put it simply, a company with short, stable RTOs is better equipped to overcome network interruptions, outages and other roadblocks that hinder digital productivity.

Of course, business leaders are always looking for ways to shorten their RTOs and gain greater control over their restorative goals in a crisis scenario. Thankfully, there are a handful of technologies and methodologies that can quicken the pace of recovery and bring network assets back on line with confidence. Here are four of the best ways to ramp up RTOs and promote stronger continuity overall:

1. Consolidate recovery controls: Many IT departments find themselves spread thin when tasked with recovering digital resources during an interruption, reducing efficiency and putting unnecessary strain on technical personnel. A centralized recovery portal is a tech professional’s best friend, eliminating the frantic goose chase that often ensues following a network outage or system failure. The ability to initiate restorative processes from a single access point is great news for RTOs, and can speed up every component of the DR plan.

2. Prioritize critical applications: Even with converged backup environments, virtual machine enablement and a centralized command platform, business leaders will have to make some tough choices to boost their RTOs, and pick which systems to prioritize for recovery is one of these key decision points. Once certain applications and databases are selected over others, however, a company can enjoy a much more responsive restoration process when it comes time to take action.

3. Unclog redundant databases: Excessive duplication leads to diminished performance in all network operations and can wreak havoc on RTOs if not addressed early and often. Decision-makers should employ deduplication techniques that cut out redundant data replicas, lightening the load for recovery systems.

4. Prepare archives for recovery: While tape-based backup assets may seem archaic compared to virtual machine restoration techniques, companies still often find themselves in need of archived data when an interruption presents itself. Readying these storage appliances for faster RTOs isn’t intuitive, but can result in faster overall recovery times and save some headaches in the process.

3 keys to master the human side of business continuity

When it comes to business resilience, it’s easy for decision-makers to get caught up in cyberspace. There’s no denying that the protection of network assets such as servers and storage is essential to navigating any crisis situation – SBD Magazine recently noted that 95 percent of information in the enterprise environment is digital. However, there is a whole other side of the coin in the world of business continuity: the people who animate the organization with value and productivity. Failing to account for this aspect of continuity is a common, and sometimes fatal, mistake.

While the restoration of apps and data is vital, decision-makers must create a continuity strategy that ensures the momentum of the business from a human perspective. After all, a lopsided approach to disaster recovery will bring about uneven results once it comes time to face a serious business interruption. Here are three people-centric factors of continuity that must be included in any complete strategy:

1. Plan with unmistakable clarity: A continuity roadmap must be created with painstaking precision at the macro and micro levels. That means developing directions based on department, from a hierarchical standpoint and on an individual basis. While these distinct groups appear separate on paper, their interconnectedness must be reflected from a top-down perspective, all in accordance with the technological capabilities of the DR component. Only when these elements form a reliable ecosystem of actionable, objective-based planning (and are thoroughly tested) can an organization consider itself prepared.

The human aspect of continuity can’t leave anything up in the air. When a crisis scenario arises, people need to be 100 percent certain on where they need to go, who they must report to and how they will continue to remain productive in the coming hours, days and weeks. Furthermore, they must be fully aware of the technical measures taken by the organization to keep data readily available. Application variety and connectivity are often limited in the early stages of recovery, and staff members will need to know what they can and cannot access to ensure smooth restoration.

2. Notify early, often and accurately: A hectic atmosphere can cloud judgment, muddle communications and throw contingency plans out the window despite months of planning ahead. Even the most highly informed and educated workforce needs in-the-moment guidance when crisis mode sets in. That’s why a reliable notification system is a critical component of any continuity blueprint, especially for organizations with multi-tiered plans and dispersed personnel. SMS-enabled alerts and directions can keep a strategy moving forward no matter what forces attempt to derail it from its course.

The best notification systems offer much more than standardized messages – companies must be able to tailor these alerts based on the individuals who receive them. Optimized continuity plans leave nothing to chance, and maintaining clarity at all times is a core part of this approach.

3. Dedicate team-centric workspaces: Most employees can only work in isolation for a few days before cabin fever sets in, dismantling focus and slamming the brakes on productivity. This is especially true for personnel who work primarily in close, team-based environments requiring constant back-and-forth. While chat and video conferencing tools can be useful in a pinch, the collaborative energy fostered in a face-to-face setting can’t be replicated in the digital realm. To keep the magic alive and maximize creative potential, team members need a dedicated physical workspace to get together.

Employees should have options when it comes to backup work environments, especially if weather is a prohibitive factor. Having multiple facilities readily available for staff members to congregate is continuity at its very finest, and a sure-fire way to promote optimal results in the face of adversity.

Step into the next generation of converged backup, DR

The data that flows actively through an enterprise production environment represents only a piece of the digital puzzle – archived information and assets held in backup systems comprise a significant portion of a company’s entire data portfolio. While these secondary holdings are crucial to completing daily objectives and ensuring smooth audit processes, they can become a burden on an organization if not optimized for performance and accessibility. These measures are especially important when it comes to disaster recovery, as backup environments play a vital role in data restoration and integrity.

Backup and DR converge
There has always been a close link between data backup and disaster recovery, and many decision-makers still believe these two components to be interchangeable in the boardroom conversation. According to TechTarget, however, there are subtle yet important differences between them that can make or break a company’s entire continuity outlook. The source explained that while backup can be boiled down to the duplication and storage of data, disaster recovery is defined by the way in which these assets deliver results in a crisis situation.

Of course, the relationship between backup and DR has evolved drastically over the past decade, with organizations discovering the importance of continuous data protection the hard way – business interruptions such as natural disasters and human-induced network outages have reiterated the crucial role that both of these features play in overall enterprise resilience. Tech Target explained that while tape-based backup is still relied upon by modern corporations, advanced solutions provide greater precision, speed and accessibility for restorations. Here are some main downsides to tape:

  • Tape may offer a haven for backed-up data, but it can suffer from the same damaging incidents that negatively affect primary production assets.
  • Restoring data from tape is a long, drawn-out process that runs the risk of human error and makes information vulnerable to further loss.
  • The capital expenditure required for tape procurement and maintenance mirrors is hampered by steep price tags and the demand for constant upgrades.
  • Monitoring and other manual processes are necessary to ensure that tape provides relevant data in a worst-case scenario, depleting additional resources.

Entering a new era of DR
Thankfully for today’s IT leaders, tape-based systems don’t have to be the primary DR strategy employed by the enterprise when a business interruption strikes. Companies can now turn to virtualization technology to enable up-to-the-minute snapshots, replications, file deduplications and other streamlined methods that reduce risk and speed up restoration times. These techniques move away from physical recovery processes by utilizing virtual machines – software that takes an image of the server environment for fast and customized recovery demands.

While organizations can still deploy tape to support their archived data – a smart move for any business with a wealth of older information that must be preserved – decision-makers should lean more heavily on virtualized systems to support their recovery strategies. With guidance from a third-party provider that has mastered the science of continued data protection, an organization can finally step into the future of converged backup and recovery.

6 critical disaster recovery components

Disaster recovery is becoming a more integral part of enterprise IT strategy every year, as business leaders open their eyes to the massive risks of network interruptions and outages. These realizations have resulted in an explosion of demand for DR support and expertise, with service providers and internal teams seeking to step up and fill these skills and knowledge gaps across sectors.

Despite having come a long way since the inception of this relatively new branch of IT, decision-makers still may be a bit fuzzy on the details of DR, especially with regard to the vocabulary unique to this area. Here are six essential DR components that can help shed some light on the esoteric terminology and ideas that comprise this hugely important aspect of business IT:

1. Recovery point objectives: These measures are the building blocks of any great DR strategy, determining how far back a business wants to travel when restoring its vital applications and data. According to TechTarget, RPOs are crucial to ensuring the precise restoration of key IT elements and avoiding the recovery of irrelevant assets. For example, an RPO of 24 hours will replicate files on a daily basis to minimize the loss of recently created data in the event of an interruption.

2. Recovery time objectives: When systems experience unexpected downtime, IT administrators want to know exactly how long it will take before their assets are back online. This is the role of RTO​s, which goes hand in hand with RPO​s in terms of accuracy and coordination with the rest of the DR blueprint. Without a crystal-clear time horizon off which to plan the remainder of the DR strategy, a company may find itself lost at sea in the midst of a crisis.

3. Virtual machine replication: Virtualization is widely recognized as standard operating procedure in today’s data center environment, separating physical servers from their computing and storage functionality thanks to a layer of software called a hypervisor. With virtual machines readily available to replicate and restore OS settings, applications and workflows, a company can ensure complete control over its recovery agenda and boost its resilience in a worst-case scenario.

4. Source side deduplication: Few things are more bothersome to an IT team than having to deal with redundant files that clog up backup environments and cause sluggish recovery performance. Deduplication ensures that files are backed up and secured in one reliable instance, rather than cloned unnecessarily across many servers and storage units. This process speeds up the entire restoration process and promotes efficiency in the data center at large.

5. App and data prioritization: Even with the help of clear-cut RTO and RPO blueprints, not all applications and data can be restored at once. Decision-makers need to determine which IT assets are most critical to their operations when faced with an interruption, and create a plan that prioritizes their restoration. With the guidance of a third-party service provider, a company can identify crucial assets and assign restoration objectives to particular elements of the infrastructure. These are tough choices to make, but they are key to ensuring thorough and secure recovery.

6. Backup tape archive access: Creating the optimal balance of archival accessibility, security and performance is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of DR strategy. For those not-so-critical apps and information stores, organizations should be able to rely on backup environments to sort and archive all additional files and software. Ideally, these assets will be separate from the main production setting to ensure frontline efficiency, but also made available in a pinch regardless of the scenario.

5 balanced business continuity keys

There are two main ways in which companies fail to build the best business continuity blueprint for their needs. Some organizations fall short of their goals by overlooking key components of the operation, leaving gaps in the strategy that result in a collapse come crisis time. Others try to do too much and spread their resources thin across departments, which ends up backfiring when a lack of support prevents proper execution in an interruption scenario. In other words, business continuity is all about balance, and every company must strive to achieve this equilibrium.

Trial-and-error is not a viable option in the world of continuity – businesses need to hit the nail on the head with their strategies to ensure they remain resilient in trying times. Here are five tips that can help decision-makers develop a comprehensive continuity outlook that gets it right the first time:

1. Continuity is a total team effort: “Business continuity (BC) refers to a strategy that lets a business operate with minimal or no downtime or service outage,” explained a recent article from Tech Page One. Decision-makers should internalize the lesson of this definition by recognizing its widespread implications – continuity support should be distributed across the business, including the data center, personnel teams and the physical tools used to get the job done. Delegating responsibilities and action plans is key to ensuring resilience in every corner of the business environment.

2. IT is only a piece of the puzzle: Tech Page One took the liberty of identifying the differences between disaster recovery and business continuity, details which are often forgotten by business leaders. This lack of clarity can end up stifling the success of a strategy, especially as these components become more central to the enterprise. As it turns out, recovery comprises a small but significant portion of the total continuity picture, making it crucial that decision-makers allocate an appropriate level of resources to this area and ensure balanced support.

“Disaster recovery (DR) refers to having the ability to restore the data and applications that run your business should your data center, servers or other infrastructure get damaged or destroyed,” noted the source. “One important DR consideration is how quickly data and applications can be recovered and restored.”

3. Tech priorities are essential: Continuing on the subject of technology and continuity balance, it’s important to remember that some data will have to take a backseat during the restoration process. Even the most capable backup systems will require that decision-makers prioritize certain elements of the infrastructure to bring systems back online as soon possible. Leaders should pinpoint the most critical apps in their network and make sure they are restored in a precise and timely manner.

4. Employees need training: Cohesive continuity means that everyone is on the same page and individuals know exactly what must be done to support the strategy at large. According to a slideshow from Baseline highlighting the importance of integrated response tactics, training employees on the details of the company’s continuity outlook is the best way to ensure the business is prepared to hit the ground running when an interruption takes place. To make sure employee education sticks, active tests should be deployed on a frequent basis.

5. Third-party guidance is gold: Even at the Forbes 500 level, companies need help determining what continuity objectives matter most, what components need to be in place and the best way to test these assets in preparation for an actual crisis. Expert service providers can make all the difference when it comes to strategizing and executing a continuity plan from the data center to the office floor.

The real power of automated disaster recovery

Imagine having to piece together a wooden shed after a storm blows it down, but reconstructing it without a blueprint. Still, every shingle on the roof needs to be placed with meticulous precision. Each wooden plank must be flawlessly laid based on pure intuition. The tedious nature of the project would be enough to drive even the most experienced, zen-adept construction experts out of their mind. Not only would it be a waste of time – this painstaking approach would appear downright illogical to any reasonable onlooker.

In need of a vision
It doesn’t make sense for a builder to piece together a structure without a clear picture in mind, and the same concept applies in IT disaster recovery. When it comes to restoring IT assets in the data center and across the network, administrators need to have a rock-solid plan that they can follow when a crisis scenario takes place. This begins with mapping out a strategy, but organizations must ultimately have an automated recovery system in place to expedite restoration and minimize the level of manual user involvement required to achieve recovery point and time objectives.

Automation takes away much of the uncertainty and anxiety that accompanies traditional approaches to disaster recovery. Much like the construction team that requires a blueprint to reconstruct the broken shed, IT administrators can rely on automated features such as virtual machine replication and duplication prevention to ensure they restore systems in their full capacity. When companies employ the support of a dedicated DR provider, internal teams are freed of many additional tasks, allowing them to enjoy the assurance of a service-level agreement.

Dispersed data
Any organization with the technical wherewithal to prioritize disaster recovery is probably well ahead of the game with regard to a multi-site data center architecture. Nowadays, it isn’t rare to see enterprise leaders spread their storage and memory assets over in-house systems, public and private cloud environments, not to mention co-location sites that support satellite office locations and remote users. According to​ eWEEK, multi-site disaster recovery is the best way to support these diverse asset layouts, backing up storage arrays and OS settings with an endless supply of replicas.

As IT infrastructures become more complex and expansive, disaster recovery solutions will have to keep stride with the quick pace of advancement. Automating DR processes and leveraging the support of expert service providers is the best way to stay ahead of the curve.