SmartAdvice: Successful Risk Mitigation Requires Pre-Disaster Planning - InformationWeek

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11/9/2005
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SmartAdvice: Successful Risk Mitigation Requires Pre-Disaster Planning

It's worth doing at least some planning for even a relatively small, resource-constrained business, The Advisory Council says. Also, get the skinny on new RFID guidelines for Defense Department contractors.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]


Question A: With all the recent news about major natural disasters, is there anything I can do to mitigate the risks to my company's data centers?

Our advice: Many businesses have a heightened awareness of just how vulnerable they can be after the recent natural disasters. Even as many companies suffered catastrophic data-center losses, others sailed through high winds, floods, and power outages relatively unscathed. One Internet hosting provider in downtown New Orleans, with generators and well-planned power backup, was able to make it through both storms with no downtime for any of its 800 servers. Although sometimes it was just dumb luck and location, clearly some businesses were much better prepared than others.

Preparedness for major disasters is entirely different from simple data recovery and business continuity. For example, if you lose a single important system, your people aren't scattered and your business infrastructure, processes, and procedures are in place to recover the system and the data. The business risks are well understood and can be planned for accordingly.

With areas in New Orleans still without power, you might be tempted to purchase an emergency power generator. There's nothing wrong with investigating alternate power sources, but they're not foolproof and can be expensive -– at least $250,000 for a moderately sized data center. The New Orleans Internet host was lucky and only lost power for a few hours; running its generator for a month while relying on a spotty fuel supply would have been difficult at best.


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Your company's ability to withstand or recover from such large and rare events is determined by external factors, such as the nature of the disaster and the amount of the damage to the underlying civil infrastructure, combined with internal factors, such as the number and locations of data centers. Yes, an emergency power supply, such as a backup diesel-powered generator sitting in your parking lot, can offer peace of mind. However, if your staff is scattered, and you don't have mobile workforce practices in place, you still won't be able to manage your business after a major loss. Whatever the scope of damage, how fast you can mobilize resources to mitigate harm, and return your data center to normal operations, can represent days or weeks of lost business, and millions of dollars in missed revenue.

Planning Points
Unless you're a global business with very deep pockets, you're unlikely to have the resources needed to be fully prepared for the worst disaster. However, it's worth doing at least some planning for even a relatively small, resource-constrained business. Keep these points in mind when planning for major catastrophic loss:

  • Disaster readiness is a form of insurance; approach planning with that in mind.
  • The speed of recovery is directly related to the amount of resources spent on preparedness.
  • Do a risk assessment to determine the level of preparedness required for your business.
  • When faced with catastrophic losses such as those inflicted by Katrina, the issue of business continuity and data-center protection takes on an entirely different meaning. Recovery time will depend on the resources spent on preparedness and proper planning. How much resources, both money and staff, you're willing to commit to disaster preparedness is going to vary greatly between industries and companies. To determine your company's level of commitment, you'll need to ask hard questions of executive management.

    --Beth Cohen

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