Disaster-Proofing Businesses: Lessons Learned From The Eye Of Sandy
By Frank DeBenedetto, Two River Technology Group
From earthquakes in Southern California and the residual aftershocks throughout the southwestern US to tropical storms along the Gulf Coast, natural disaster season is upon us. No matter your level of exposure, business continuity plans should be put in place – especially now, as hurricane season enters full swing. However, managed service providers (MSPs) are often faced with a similar problem: convincing their customers to be proactive in disaster-proofing their digital infrastructure, prior to any emergency.
As MSPs, we’re constantly preaching the need for data backup, business continuity plans, and preparation for any and all “what if” scenarios. But inevitably there will be customers who fail to take things seriously until it’s too late.
I experienced this problem throughout the summer of 2012 – the summer of Hurricane Sandy – and while digital infrastructure has come a long way since, it remains imperative to prepare for and mitigate any risk prior to when disaster strikes.
The Most Significant Disaster Risks Are Not Always The Most Obvious
In my experience, I’ve found that during a natural disaster, the largest IT issues are often not caused directly by physical damage (flooding, hardware damage, building infrastructure, etc.), but instead a lack of power. The best advice I could share with clients is to have a generator prepared and ready to go in case of a power outage. Business is virtually impossible to continue without electricity and while it may seem obvious, it is so often overlooked.
During Sandy, many of our clients were without power for 10-15 days (I found myself working out of my mother’s house for a week because it was the only accessible place with power). During that time, the most common ask we received from clients was, “Can you at least get my email working?” In this case, having hosted exchange became a priority and migrating on the fly, during a disaster, is no easy task!
Cloud Migration Helps, But Is Not A Silver Bullet
The large migration to cloud-based networks over the last several years has mitigated many issues stemming from natural disasters, but this should not diminish attitudes toward preparedness. Natural disasters not only impact the businesses in the regions they hit – they also affect that business’s customers.
For example, clients in California may be impacted by the recent earthquake, but still need to continue business operations to support customers across the country or even the globe, who may not know of (or care about) the impact of the earthquake. The wider your geographic base, the more important preparation becomes.
In 2012, a vast majority of our clients were working in server-based conditions, and while today around 90 percent of our clients function in cloud-based environments, many of the chief issues remain the same.
Find A Vendor Partner You Can Trust
One of the most important things an MSP can do in preparing for a disaster, is to have a vendor partner that they can rely on in any situation. With any IT-related issue, problems often arise outside of the 9 to 5 workday and having a partner that you can trust to answer the call is key.
During Sandy, our email security vendor, AppRiver, exceeded all expectations, fielding calls at all hours and helping to enact emergency business continuity services, including migrating clients to temporary mailboxes. The process went so smoothly that many clients, to our relief, permanently migrated once normal operations resumed.
Today, AppRiver continues to act as functioning extension of our team, interfacing directly with clients, reliably adapting to each and every new technology, and always remaining ahead of the curve.
Disaster Preparation Tips For Any And All Businesses
My experience during Sandy reinforced several other best practices and tips that can help MSPs and their customers make sure they are digitally fortified for any disaster.
- Identify Vital Business Functions. Organization is key in the event of a disaster hitting. Businesses must identify and prioritize their most critical business functions and departments to ensure they can be up running again as quickly as possible. This will vary from company to company, but typically includes IT infrastructure and networks, such as email communications, VOIP capability, billing access, etc.
- Secure your Data. Digital bad actors are more likely to target companies at their most vulnerable. Businesses need to ensure resources are in place to mitigate oncoming threats. Be certain that an extended outage does not expose your data to additional risks and that you’re aware of business data status at all times.
- Proactively Engage with Customers. Communication is vital in the wake of disaster. Communicating proactively with customers and partners about the status of their data will help to maintain working relationships and level-set expectations as operations come back online.
- Audit Vendor Continuity Plans. Before disaster strikes, organizations should verify that all vendors can maintain continuity of service, in the event of a disaster. By carefully selecting vendors who can mitigate vulnerabilities or outage potential during disaster situations, you can ensure your business is best positioned to remain operational during the worst of times.
- Account for Human Resources. Organizations need to ensure critical applications are virtualized in the event employees can’t be physically present in the office. If employees need to continue to work offsite for an undefined period of time, they would need to comply with a previously determined working remote protocol – such as using a VPN, secure Wi-Fi, having the ability to connect securely to work servers, etc.
- Test your Plan. Businesses should not wait for disaster to strike before evaluating the effectiveness of their preparedness plans. It’s important to run scenarios prior to the event of an emergency to work out any necessary changes to business continuity plans.
Natural disasters are inevitable and happen in some form or another each year. But, if you have continuity plans in place, you’ll be in a better position to resume operations quickly and with little impact on customers – and look like a Rockstar in the process!
About The Author
Frank DeBenedetto is CEO of Two River Technology Group and Founding Partner at AudIT Sales Presentation System.