It is all about a well planned and well executed recovery and continuity plan

National Preparedness Month was this September and already Hurricane Joaquin is here. We should remember that it is crucial to know how to recover when disaster strikes. It’s serious stuff: the economy takes a damaging hit, and some businesses suffer financial loss so great that they never reopen.

Gartner estimates that the average business loses $5,600 per minute of downtime. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy have devastated local communities almost to the point of no return, costing billions in reparations to infrastructure, businesses and the lives of those personally affected.

The graphic below illustrates the states most prone to such incidents. September falls in the middle of hurricane season when many coastal businesses keep careful watch on developing storms such as the recent Tropical Storm Erika. However, storms are not the only crises with high potential to harm business continuity. More commonplace disruptions, such as equipment failures and critical employees calling in sick, can also have major business impact over time.

States Most Prone to Natural Disasters

National Preparedness Month serves as a reminder to businesses across the country of how critical it is to assess their readiness to handle disruptions and create a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan. As B2B businesses conduct continuity assessments, they should pay particularly close attention to the reliability and capability of their technology.

According to Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael Brandenburg, “Well-architected cloud [private branch exchange] or [Unified Communications as a Service] offerings can provide a high level of protection during a disaster event, as well as significantly reduce or almost eliminate the time it takes to recover after a disaster.”

In an effort to ensure disaster-related downtime is kept at bay, businesses should proactively back up data, move servers to the cloud and keep communication a top priority.

Back Up Business Data

The first step in disaster preparedness is backing up all relevant data and ensuring that there are replicas of important files and information in case the primary data is lost, corrupted or inaccessible. From personal business files on PCs to sensitive corporate data on servers, this information is a company’s lifeblood and powers day-to-day business decisions, large and small.

To maximize security, businesses should look for cloud-based solutions where information is stored in multiple data centers. This geo-diversity ensures access to backup files in case a regional disaster affects one of the data centers.

One of the most important factors in preparing a backup solution is the time it takes to recover your data. Businesses will want to start recovering time-sensitive materials immediately, and for companies with large volumes of data, this could take days, weeks or even months. Work with a provider who will prepare and ship a physical hard drive so that businesses continues as normal as possible.

Move Servers to the Cloud

Moving infrastructure to the cloud protects businesses far more effectively than relying on outdated, on premise solutions. Cloud service providers should be able to guarantee 99.99 percent uptime.

This reliability is the top consideration that draw businesses to the cloud, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey of IT decision-makers. From a disaster preparedness perspective, scalability is also a key consideration in transitioning servers to the cloud. The ability to increase off-site server capacity at a moment’s notice through a web-based portal makes organizations even more nimble in responding to business disruptions.

Such a level of access makes it easier to get these resources up and running quickly, regardless of location, without any capital investment and with minimum additional IT resources. Beyond reliability and scalability, the cost effectiveness of cloud-based UC solutions is yet another strong factor in forcing businesses to reconsider their disaster preparedness solutions. All three factors interconnect to offer a high quality, effective solution to ensure business continuity.

Keep Communication a Top Priority

Clear, timely communication is more critical than ever during disruptions. To keep lines of communication open, businesses should look for cloud-based IP phone systems. Features like mobile twinning, which sends inbound calls to mobile and desk phones simultaneously, ensures employees are available at any location at a moment’s notice.

Businesses should also invest in voice services that use a dedicated circuit with automatic failover in order to reduce dependence on the Internet, proactively identify potential issues with the primary line and seamlessly switch to alternate lines without downtime.

To keep business functioning optimally, it is best to house 100 percent of communications in the cloud. While hardware such as phones and desktops are key for in-office productivity, any programming stored in a physical phone increases the odds of disruption when the unexpected occurs.

Keeping phone communication settings in the cloud allows businesses to leverage features like softphones, which aid mobile workers by allowing any Internet-connected PC, iPad, iPhone or Android device to be turned into another phone extension.

B2B companies must be able to address the needs and concerns of the businesses they serve – even in the midst of a disaster. Town Residential, a New-York based real estate company that deals in both commercial and residential properties, lived that reality during Hurricane Sandy. When businesses across Manhattan were shutting down, Town Residential did not miss a single phone call. In fact, the day after the hurricane hit, they closed their single largest deal of the year.

Too many businesses settle for surviving disaster, when the right technology would enable them to thrive despite it. Town Residential ensured business continuity in advance to the disaster by choosing the right provider and the right solutions.

While National Preparedness Month places business continuity at the forefront of business planning, companies should prioritize preparedness year-round. Backing up and moving critical data, servers and communications into the cloud, and ensuring open communication are foundational steps to reducing vulnerability.

Putting the right technologies in place today is critical to navigating accidents, failures and disasters in the future that might otherwise disrupt operations. With proper planning, businesses may never need to recover from disasters – because they will avoid them altogether.

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10 Steps to Recovery from a Disaster: “Hark I hear the cannons roar!”

My father once told me a story about an out of work actor. He got a one line role in a Broadway performance. He had to say “Hark, I hear the cannons roar”. He dutifully practiced his lines every day for hours until the scheduled performance. Finally, at the opening night, it’s time for him to go on stage and recite his line. He practices it once more. He goes on stage and hears a loud boom. Instead of saying his line, he says, “What the hell was that!”. Recovery from a disaster can be like that if you are not prepared. Here are some steps to mitigate the “What the hell was that” factor when disaster strikes.

• Take a quick inventory of all your IT related business processes.

This includes everything from financial applications, logistical functions, email, outward facing functions and more. Remember the regulatory /compliance environment you are in (HIPAA, PCI or Sarbanes)

• Rank them for recovery priority.

Think about which applications are necessary for your company to generate revenue or are critical to business continuity?

What data can’t your customers do without? What’s critical to running your internal accounting and finances? And what is required for compliance? Now, create a list in in descending order to establish your DR recovery sequence. This is the dress rehearsal for your performance. It makes the “what the hell was that” factor diminish significantly.

• Establish a Recovery Time Objective (RTO) for each function.

Ask yourself, “How fast do I need to recover this application?” Email and transaction based applications that people inside and outside the company depend on at all times will probably be near the top of this list, whereas applications that are less frequently accessed, such as a human resources applications, may be low on the list because they’re ancillary to your immediate business continuity requirements. Be realistic in your estimate of the recovery time objective.

• Establish a Recovery Point Objective (RPO)

How much data can you afford to lose for business process? How important is the data that you could lose? Applications related directly to business continuity, where data changes significantly every day, will top this list. Back office processes may be lower on the list. Is it a day’s worth of data? Is it an hour’s worth of data?

· Create a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” plan. Define where you want to keep your DR data and systems.

If you are located in an area that could be hit is regional weather events like hurricanes, floods, or wild fires, then select a secondary location outside of your region that you can fail over to when disaster strike at your primary location. Your choice could include cloud-based recovery.

• Determine which of your RTOs and RPOs can be supported by your existing backup and recovery scheme.

This will allow you to figure out pretty quickly which of your processes are going to “fall through the cracks.” Certain applications, like very heavily used SQL or Exchange applications may need to be backed up even more frequently, and if your current backup scheme can’t support anything more frequent than once daily backup, you may wish to consider investing in a newer, more aggressive disaster recovery solution.

• Consider your DR options.

If your current system is not up for the job, select a Disaster recovery solution that best meets the business and recovery objectives you have developed in the previous steps of this plan (see below in the next section for more information). Once it’s installed and in production, make sure your staff is trained how to use it.

• Assign responsibilities so everyone knows what to do when a disaster strikes.

Assign everybody involved in the DR plan a specific task. Don’t expect the relevant personnel to always be at the disaster site or to be in control immediately. Implement necessary duplication and redundancy for people, just like you would do with computers.

• Test, test, test!

One of the worst feelings an IT administrator can have is discovering a backup is corrupted in a disaster recovery scenario. Why wait to find out when it’s too late to do anything about it? Test your backup data for corruption when you back it up. Newly developed software allows you to test for recoverability automatically. Use these available tools.

• Practice, practice, practice!

The more experience your team has successfully carrying out a simulated disaster recovery, the more comfortable and quick they will be to succeed when the real thing happens.
Your business is dependent on technology. Even the smallest disruption to your systems can impact operations. A backup and recovery strategy is essential, yet most companies lack the expertise or resources to implement one. With Prime’s unmetered managed backup and recovery service, our certified engineers manage the process for you. Visit us at http://www.primetelecommunications.com/backup-disaster-recovery/ to learn more.