Diversity Counts in Disaster Preparedness

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Recent storms and power outages in my area of the Eastern United States brought back memories of recent, similar experiences. On October 29, 2011, we had a freak snowstorm in New England. The trees still had leaves and the 10-plus inches of snow that fell was wet and heavy. In the early morning, I walked outside and looked into the forest surrounding my house. I saw and heard branches breaking and falling to the ground. I didn’t realize that power would be out for the next five days. Fortunately, I had a generator ready to go and three gallons of gas. Enough for one full day.

In less than a month, we were faced with Hurricane Irene. The storm tracked right over our town. We lost power for another seven days.

By the second storm, my preparedness had ramped up. The day before the storm hit I had six gallons of gas in cans plus four in the generator. Although I had a transfer switch, I had extension cords ready just in case. We weathered that second extended outage much better.

Fast forward to October 29, 2012, and Superstorm Sandy. Same day as the freak snowstorm a year prior and another five day power outage followed. This time I was even more prepared. I had the basics down and added a few extras. I filled the propane tank on the grill (for cooking, not heating), made sure I had a good stock of firewood and tuned our food stores for non-perishable items.

An article in the local newspaper this weekend asked if we were ready for more angry weather. I realized it isn’t if we would lose power, but just when and for how long. I started to think of options.

For those of us who manage data on behalf of the enterprise, we need to think in terms of diversity and options. Although we are most efficient with centralized systems and processing we need to recognize that may not be the most survivable solution.

Diversify Your Disaster Planning

The disaster will happen. You need to be ready with today’s technical options. The current level of preparedness is different than it was in 1990. If you are still working off of a disaster planning process that was created more than five years ago, you should take it out and review it.

There are more options for recovery now. That is the key, not all of your recovery eggs need to be in one basket. With cloud environments becoming more secure and resilient, the alternatives for continuous business processes are increasing. None will be a complete solution. Each has a place and may fit a particular process better than another. How is revenue best protected by technical options. Diversity includes a variety of providers as well as technologies. Be open minded.

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

From previous outages, I learned my priority in a winter storm is heat. Heat needs a source. It isn’t something you can stockpile like food and water. The generator powers the heater and if that fails, the fireplace is the backup.

To keep the enterprise going, you must know what systems are most important. The degree of continuity will vary by business process and by industry. For example, the sales team may be able to move to a manual process. The key is if they know how to invoke that backup process and make it operate. This is where IT leadership needs to be tightly coupled with the business.

Know Your Customer

A business process has many underlying components. As an IT leader you need to go through the use case scenarios with your business partner and understand the linkages and dependencies. This is a different type of planning than you do to create a strategic direction. It requires you to know how the business operates on a daily basis.

Consider this a golden opportunity. Using Sandy as the impetus, start the dialog with your business partners to understand what is important to them and what IT components make it happen. Approach the effort as protecting the revenue of the company. Every member of the board will understand that and your value will increase.

To get more useful enterprise class data center management strategies and insight from Nemertes Research download the Q3 Data Center Knowledge Guide to Enterprise Data Center Strategies, compliments of Vantage Data Centers.

About the Author

Jerry Gentry is a research analyst for Nemertes Research.

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