Planning and preparing for disaster recovery is all about determining an organization's tolerance for loss. How much tolerance does it have for downtime, lost data, and lost revenue or profit? The cost an organization incurs to maintain a suitable disaster recovery plan depends largely on how closely it relies on IT for its revenue. A company like Amazon or Google relies so heavily on its IT infrastructure that its tolerance for outages is, for all intents and purposes, zero. A motel in rural Alaska, on the other hand, might have a higher tolerance for outages or even data loss.
It should go without saying then, that the first step in creating a disaster recovery plan should be a thorough analysis to determine just how long your organization can survive without the bulk of its IT infrastructure. For most organizations the outcome of the analysis will show that they can't survive for very long. Amazon and Google have almost unlimited budgets for their disaster preparedness initiatives, but small and medium size businesses must carefully weigh the cost of implementing disaster recovery solutions against their tolerance for loss.
Disaster avoidance and recovery: economies of scale
So what if yours is an organization with little tolerance for downtime and little funding for disaster preparedness? Often the options available to organizations like this are limited to technologies that are tried and true but offer slow recovery times. Most organizations like this will simply rely on a tape or cloud-based backup solution and leave it at that. No one will argue that these methods shouldn't be part of a disaster recovery plan, but preparedness is all about continuity and options for true continuity in the face of disaster can be expensive.
So what technologies can an organization with limited funds but little tolerance for downtime utilize to maintain business continuity? Let's look at a few ways smaller organizations can leverage the same technologies that large ones do to mitigate loss from disaster.
1.) Software-as-a-service (SaaS)
As organizations turn more and more to off-the-shelf business systems and software rather than developing solutions in-house, opportunities to house data offsite become more widely available. Many of the most well-known software makers offer SaaS versions of their most popular brands. These range from email services to major ERP systems. SaaS is simply an online version of software that is hosted by the company who makes it or through a reseller. There are several reasons an organization might want to consider SaaS options and disaster recovery should definitely be part of that equation. Having your line-of-business software served and accessed in the cloud takes your data offsite. There, the data is backed up and replicated by companies able to implement expensive disaster recovery solutions by leveraging economies of scale. In the event of a fire or flood at a main office location, employees would be able to access data and line-of-business applications from any computer connected to the internet.
While this might not offer complete business continuity, it can let employees complete back office tasks while ensuring data integrity.
Some organizations use line-of-business applications that are not offered as SaaS. Others might find SaaS cost-prohibitive or simply wish to maintain control of their own data. For companies like this, colocation services can offer a cost-effective way to mitigate risk from disaster. Colocation services generally offer either servers and storage space or rack space for an organization's own servers. Much like SaaS, using colocation facilities allows organizations to outsource their disaster recovery initiatives by locating hardware with important data in a secure data-center. Colocation services take advantage of economies of scale by aggregating disaster recovery for all of their clients. In the event of a disaster at a main office, important data and services remain intact and accessible via remote connection.
3. Remote IT management
The recurring theme here is moving data offsite and taking advantage of the economies of scale that aggregation offers for disaster avoidance and recovery. SaaS and Colocation bring with them the need for remote support solutions. In the face of disaster with either SaaS or colocation services in place, a likely scenario would be one in which employees work from home connecting to their business applications in the cloud. Inevitably, this will require extra work for help desk technicians and system administrators.
Computers connecting to SaaS solutions may require special configurations. Given that techs are already facing the clean-up required from the disaster, supporting offsite users will only add to their collective headache. Remote support software will allow techs and sysadmins to access these remote machines quickly without leaving their desks. This is a time-saving measure whose importance cannot be overstated.
For organizations opting to use colocation services, this goes doubly. A robust remote support solution is an absolutely necessary component. Remote support is not just a matter of remotely controlling offsite computers. Another important component of remote support software is the ability to perform remote administration tasks on computers. Remote administration tasks include the following: starting/stopping services, managing disk drives and volumes, viewing/clearing event logs, managing Active Directory Objects and Group Policies, and supporting sleeping or crashed hardware. The ability to perform these tasks remotely and from one console will save sys admins a bundle of time, especially when faced with a disaster. A good remote support solution will bundle all of these features into one easy-to-use console.
In addition, organizations that are supported by a mobile IT administration tool can help improve business continuity by allowing their IT pros to monitor, troubleshoot and triage IT technologies when a destructive event requires them to work remotely from a mobile device.
Solutions that allow remote access to IT departments and applications can be an integral component in a comprehensive backup plan by ensuring secure connections during disasters or emergencies.
When creating disaster recovery plans, smaller organizations should give serious consideration to these cost- and time-saving measures. By themselves, they are by no means a comprehensive disaster recovery solution, but they can help smaller organizations save costs while using basically the same technologies as large companies.