I didn’t realize that I would be speaking on the anniversary of the May 8th storm until Russell Williams pointed it out to me the other day. It’s amazing how time flies by and we forget. I remember the day quite clearly, which is surprising because I have such a bad memory. My wife even bought me a shirt that says “Out of Memory” on it.
As the storm crossed the Mississippi River it strengthened greatly. Numerous buildings were severely damaged or destroyed throughout southern Illinois. Immediately after the storm struck, Carbondale was reported to be virtually impassable due to the amount of debris on roadways. Marion, Murphysboro, Grand Tower, Johnston City, Herrin, Energy, and Carterville all declared curfews and states of emergency due to power outages and the massive amounts of damage caused by the storms. Some of these cities were even left without water due to the power outages. In the city of Carbondale, damage was estimated at $3,000,000, excluding damage at Southern Illinois University. Officials deemed 34 buildings a “total loss” and reported that 3,000 trees were fell throughout the city.
Preliminary estimates placed damages at Southern Illinois University in excess of $5,000,000. Numerous buildings on campus sustained roof damage, and nearly 100 windows were blown out of residence halls. Due to infrastructure damage from the storm, most communication by land line and mobile phone was reported to be impossible. In Carterville, officials found 17 buildings to be a total loss. The city’s public works garage was shifted off its foundation, and the police station sustained damage. In Franklin County, Illinois, 13 buildings were deemed to be beyond repair; damage assessments found that 184 buildings received some kind of damage from the storm. Winds were estimated between 80 and 90 mph in the county. At one point, 68,000 people were left without power in southern Illinois alone.
On July 2, 2009, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in Franklin, Gallatin, Jackson, Randolph, Saline, and Williamson counties.
We were all left with major damage, no power, no phones, some with no water, and loss of life.
As I sat in a chair in my parking lot, unable to leave the office, without power, without phones, I realized my business was now completely down. For me, that day spawned an idea. Southern Illinois needed something better than just offsite backups, but it had to start with my business. I had been providing a form of disaster recovery via offsite backups for my clients for a while, but never took that service to the next level.
Fortunately, for me, I moved into a building that used to be a bank and there was an existing bank vault made from 20 inches of reinforced concrete and rebar in every direction. It was my bunker during the storm, but it could have been much more.
My team and I went to work investing in hardware, software, a generator, cooling and redundant fiber internet lines. I realized that in order for me to be able to help my customers, I had to help myself first and be prepared for whatever the future holds.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but what did I just do? I began the path to business continuity.
What is business continuity?
So what is business continuity? Business continuity refers to a strategy that lets a business operate with minimal to no downtime or service outage. Now sure, there are many forms of business continuity situations, but we are going to focus on information technology.
The terms business continuity and disaster recovery are often mistakenly used interchangeably. In order to do effective planning you must understand the differences between the two.
Disaster recovery refers to having the ability to restore the data and applications that run your business should your data center, servers, or other infrastructure get damaged or destroyed.
Disaster recovery refers to having the ability to restore the data and applications that run your business should your data center, servers, or other infrastructure get damaged or destroyed. Offsite backups is a great tool for disaster recovery, but is in no way considered business continuity. Offsite backups are just that, they are backups. Sure, with traditional offsite backups you can access the data and recover it, but you can’t run it.
Think of this scenario, the May 8th storm. Your building is heavily damaged or destroyed. Where is your computer equipment? More than likely it’s damaged or destroyed as well. So where are you going to restore your offsite data to? See the problem? But it does not have to be a crazy event that knocks your business offline. What about something as simple as hardware failure?
So let’s take this a step further. There can be hundreds of different events that can take your equipment offline with any one of them causing prolonged downtime for your business. How long do you think it would take to get you up and running again? The quick answer? Weeks. Think about it; you need to evaluate the situation, get on the phone to your insurance company, wait for a check, order the equipment, have that equipment deployed and then finally, you get to restore all of your data from an offsite source. This process can take weeks. I know because I have assisted businesses in doing it.
Can your business afford weeks of downtime?
Again, offsite backups, while great to have is not business continuity.
The design of both solutions must balance a company’s tolerance for time to restore full function against the budget available to fund protection. In almost all cases, utilizing an externally managed service to accomplish disaster recovery or business continuity will result in lower costs and usually higher performance – less waiting time at a lower cost.
Whichever strategy you pursue, protecting your company’s data is critical. If your company lost some or all of its data, you’d likely be unable to continue operations. You wouldn’t know what to bill to your customers, what they already owe you, and what you owe vendors and service providers. Inventory information, manufacturing processes, contractual obligations, and competitive intelligence would all be gone.
The question isn’t whether or not to implement disaster recovery or business continuity solutions, but rather how to balance the two. Depending upon the transaction velocity of your business, you may want to focus on one more than the other. But there are other factors affecting your decision as to how much protection and how much loss you can afford.
Disasters happen. And when they do, they can destroy or incapacitate entire buildings, towns, and cities. This is where the concept of redundancy becomes critical. You may backup your data locally, and should a server or storage device fail, you simply replace it and restore the local copy of your data. But when a major outage hits your building, your neighborhood, perhaps even your entire city or region, you’ll want to be sure company data is replicated in a remote data center, perhaps more than one, and is available for restoration as soon as you’ve secured a new physical location from which to operate.
Business continuity planning is much more granular. Even brief lapses in operation can threaten an enterprise’s existence. Highly transactional environments almost always require a business continuity plan.
Business continuity measures need to be put into place at multiple levels. For example, redundant servers, redundant storage, even redundant data centers may be required to provide enough availability to support true continuity of the business. Anything that could fail must be backstopped. Even personnel and physical premises. Alternate personnel need to be ready to step in, and substitute locations must be designated where employees can work should a calamity befall the operation. There is clearly overlap here with disaster recovery.
You can see why people try to use these terms interchangeably. True continuity of business operations requires high availability, which is the lowest level of fault tolerance, and the ability to recover from a disaster almost instantly.
Beyond replicating your valuable data, if your company can’t afford to stop doing business, you’ll want to replicate your entire infrastructure. When an outage or disaster occurs, your network “fails over” to the redundant data center and your people continue working as if nothing has happened. Users unable to access the company’s network can connect to the secondary data center easily from wherever they can securely access the internet.
Our data center does this and a whole lot more. Not only do we act as a disaster recovery spot for many businesses, but any event from server hardware failure to full catastrophe, we have businesses covered with business continuity as a service. We have the ability to put any business back to work regardless of what happens to them within two clicks of a mouse. Server failure? No problem, within 10 minutes we can activate a replicated copy of that server and place it on your network from our data center and users can go right back to work without even realizing their onsite server is down. Other larger events such as another inland hurricane we experienced on May 8, can complicate matters, however there is always a plan that can be created to get a business back up and running within 24 hours no matter the event.
The key is, regardless of what happens to my client’s business and no matter where they have to work from, I not only have backups of their data which is disaster recovery, I have their entire infrastructure replicated and ready to be turned on at a moment’s notice. That’s business continuity.
Just remember, disaster recovery and business continuity are not the same, but should be used in conjunction with one another to ensure the livelihood and continued operations of any business.