Ahead of the Storm
There are various degrees of business disasters, but for ET International, a supercomputer company based in Newark, Del., the potentially devastating threat was a very measurable — and searing — 130 degrees.
That is the temperature the company’s machine room reached last year after a pair of chiller units failed to properly communicate.
“Due to a firmware misalignment, they weren’t talking as they should have been,” recalls Mike Hammond, control systems programmer for the independent software vendor.
Thankfully, a potential disaster was thwarted by the company’s Liebert Nfinity 20 kVA uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which notified Hammond of the problem before any sensitive equipment was damaged or critical data destroyed.
With two Nfinity units safeguarding ET International’s essential systems, Hammond says the power protection system is a major component of the firm’s disaster preparedness approach.
“The UPSs are very critical to our continued business operations,” he explains. “Without them, during a power outage or other disaster, we could potentially lose a lot of equipment.”
ET International is among a growing number of businesses investing in a disaster recovery (DR) strategy — the process, policies and procedures designed to keep critical technology infrastructure intact after a natural or human-induced disaster. Among the most widely implemented technological tools are power protection, continuous data protection, remote access, virtualization and unified communications.
SOURCE: McGladrey and Pullen
“They all play into disaster recovery in a variety of ways,” explains Anil Desai, an independent IT consultant based in Austin, Texas.
“The real goal of DR is to reduce costs, minimize infrastructure requirements and simplify management. Some of the technologies offer businesses a consistent way to start protecting all of their infrastructure and applications.”
“With disaster recovery, you either have it or you don’t — and if you don’t, your business is in a real world of hurt if something happens,” says Jake Vogel, vice president of operations for PetsUnited, an $80 million Internet retailer. “I think of disaster recovery like an insurance policy.”
For PetsUnited, such an insurance plan was deployed last year in the form of continuous data protection (CDP), also known as continuous or real-time backup. CDP automatically saves a copy of every change made to a document and — unlike traditional backup systems — lets the user restore data to any point in time.
“The real benefit of continuous data protection, when used with virtualization, is you can use the same method to keep a disaster recovery site in sync for many different processes and applications,” says Desai. “It makes it easier to protect a wide variety of applications.”
CDP has proved especially valuable to the fast-growing PetsUnited, which operates nine websites and supports a database of 4 million customers — all with a very small IT staff.
Does your company currently have a system in place to effectively communicate during and after a natural or man-made disaster?
30% No, not at all
21% Not currently, but we’re looking into it
7% Don’t know
SOURCE: CDW poll of 456 BizTech readers
The company needed to secure its infrastructure, so having redundancy and a backup solution was priority one, explains Vogel, who opted to implement CDP because of its price point and high level of availability, as well as prior experience.
“It is a solution that I knew my network team had implemented in the past and they were comfortable with,” says Vogel. “Because I don’t have a big staff, it’s important to me that people are comfortable with the solution.”
PetsUnited selected DS3 DataVaulting, a unique, fully automated online system that backs up file, application and database servers, as well as PCs and notebooks. Companies purchase a monthly storage allowance based on their capacity requirements. Now, everything customer- and order-related is on a redundant system, says Vogel.
“Prior to this, if we’d had a disaster, our website would have gone down, our customer ordering system would have gone down, and information stored about our customers would have been unavailable,” he explains. “We basically would have been out of business.”
Other technologies widely deployed for traditional IT purposes — such as virtualization and unified communications — are increasingly gaining appeal for their powerful contributions to disaster preparedness.
Virtualization, for example, lets an organization gain rapid and reliable recovery without requiring identical hardware. Even if a firm hasn’t virtualized all of its production servers, it can target specific servers for data recovery, thereby facilitating greater simplicity, reliability and cost savings.
“Virtualization is a key portion of a DR strategy because it allows companies to decouple the applications from the hardware they’re running on, and you don’t have to buy two of everything,” Desai explains.
Indeed, implementing a solution from VMware saved Acme Truck Line thousands of dollars in hardware setup costs and cut its recovery time in half. A leader in the transportation of equipment, materials and supplies throughout the United States, Acme embraced virtualization in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the Harvey, La., company was forced to re-evaluate its DR strategy.
“Anyone who thinks a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy can’t also be affordable needs to take a look at VMware,” says Shane Fontenot, Acme network technician.
Furthermore, by integrating voice, video and data across a secure Internet Protocol infrastructure, unified communications can ease communication in the face of a disaster. With UC, incoming calls can be seamlessly rerouted to employees working from home or at emergency sites. That was one of the reasons tour operator Colette Vacations in Pawtucket, R.I., opted to replace its legacy phone system with a UC system from Avaya.
“We had to find a solution to keep the call center operating, even during the worst winter weather,” explains Bill Dziura, executive vice president of information technology.
The company’s agents were provided with notebook computers and IP softphones, which let them log into the system and work from home using VPN lines. The approach helped the global tour operator continue delivering top-notch, hassle-free service to all of its customers, even in the face of harsh New England winter storms.
Disaster Recovery Best Practices
Experts recommend involving all important stakeholders in the disaster planning process, including IT, human resources, corporate communications, and physical and information security managers. Here are some tips to get started.
1. Understand your business. Identify the leading threats to mission-critical processes, the consequences if these processes are disrupted, and recovery time objectives. Also compile an inventory of applications and classify them by their importance and level of protection required.
2. Formulate continuity strategies. Determine the best approach to protect the business, including procedures to eliminate or reduce risk. Identify and assess possible strategies to address such things as business impacts and costs.
3. Develop the response. Compile a detailed response to potential incidents and a support plan. This document should bring together the actions to be taken at the time of an incident, who is involved and how they are to be contacted.
4. Communicate the plan. Inform the organization and assemble emergency management and crisis and recovery teams; implement relevant training programs for each team; and distribute plan documentation.
5. Run a test. A business continuity plan is unreliable until it has been proved workable, so test it at least once a year by preparing a detailed disaster scenario and response. Update the plan as needed to reflect changes in the business.
Mobile Disaster Recovery Toolkit
These tools can help prepare your business for anything Mother Nature throws your way.
Notebooks. Keep working while on the go and from any location with a notebook such as the compact Sony Vaio SR420J/B, which includes advanced security features including hard-drive protection.
Flash Drives. The SanDisk Cruzer Micro offers easy transfer of important documents from one computer to another. A retractable USB port eliminates the need for caps and protects your USB connector.
Two-Way Radios. Ideal for backup communication if landlines are down or cellular towers are overloaded, the Motorola Talkabout EM1000R offers a range of up to 20 miles, plus an emergency alert feature and flashlight.
UPSs. Make sure PCs and workstations stay up and running during power outages with an uninterruptible power supply such as the Eaton 3105 700 VA, equipped with both battery backup and surge protection outlets.