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Natural Disaster is the Least of Your DR Worries

September 22, 2014

Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings never shared the national news anchor desk with the network’s lead meteorologist. Today, most every network has one – staffs of them, in fact. National weather disturbances are big news practically every day, affecting millions of people and many businesses. Eight inches of rain falling in five hours collapsed a shopping mall roof in Tennessee, and South Dakota was hit with eight inches of snow before summer 2014 was over. It’s easy to understand why businesses associate severe weather with disaster recovery (DR) planning.

Natural disaster fallout is often extreme … lives lost, homes crushed, businesses and communities in ruins. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, 60% of Mississippi’s small businesses closed, according to the director of the Mississippi Small Business Development Center. That is extreme, and many studies estimate that 20-25% of businesses will never reopen after a major natural or man-made disaster.

However, these statistics belie the reality of the situation. Disasters for SMBs extend well beyond 100-year storms, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. In fact, only a small percentage (5-10 percent) of disaster declarations by businesses are weather-induced. Making extreme weather the focus of a DR plan is like choosing the flu shot that protects against only five percent of the strains out there when another concoction will defend against 50-75% of flu bugs. Why would you do that?

More than half of business IT outages result from power failure, the number one cause ahead of human error (22 percent) and software/applications (18 percent). There are other industry estimates with varying percentages, but the order remains the same. Storage area network (SAN) failures are among the hardware-failure disasters many SMBs experience. It’s common for these businesses to have a large SAN, and all storage servers virtualized onto it. Unfortunately, this means that when the SAN dies, the company’s entire environment dies with it.

There are many authorities who also have estimates of the cost of an hour of downtime. Aberdeen Group, for example, says that the expected cost to a mid-size business for one hour of downtime is $74,000; IDC pegs it at $70,000.

Unfortunately, system downtime typically lasts for much longer than 60 minutes. [Is this system downtime due to a disaster or just in general?] A Harris Interactive survey of IT managers found that it typically takes 30 hours for recovery, three times longer than most company executives guess.

Rolling the dice on disaster doesn’t pay. According to the Association of Small Business Development Center, one in four small businesses will experience “a significant crisis” in any given year. According to a Winter 2014 article in Disaster Recovery, a joint survey with Forrester Research, Inc. found that one in three companies has declared a disaster during the past five years; overall, only 31% of firms say they have never declared a disaster.

We cannot stop disasters from occurring, but we can mitigate their frequency, downtime duration and damage. DR technology that enables instant recovery of data, applications and systems — along with frequent and regular system testing – is the only way to safeguard a company’s revenue, customers and reputation. The fact that nearly two-thirds of U.S. small businesses do not have an emergency or disaster preparedness plan means risk exposure is tremendous and that there’s a great deal of work to be done.

DR in the Cloud

For those who think tape and disk back-up constitute a DR plan, think again. That’s not what they’re for, principally because of their inability to recover systems and applications quickly or simply, and because there’s no prioritization of workload importance. Given the prohibitive and disproportionate cost of downtime for SMBs, hours or day-long lags in restoration can be crippling. Furthermore, regular DR testing, so essential to ensuring business continuity during a real disaster, is particularly difficult, disruptive and time-consuming with these solutions, assuming they even offer testing functionality in the first place.

In the other extreme, building out a secondary DR site that mirrors your primary data center is prohibitively expensive in so many ways – real estate, equipment, infrastructure, software, networks, staffing, testing, etc. It’s a resource drain and unnecessarily diverts attention away from other business concerns.

Increasingly, the answer for many is using the cloud for DR … more specifically, Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). A true DRaaS provider has infrastructure, systems, data back-up and replication, people and service level agreements (SLAs) specifically for disaster recovery. Although you will still have work to do (prioritizing applications, determining recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO), keeping your DR plan in alignment with your business, for example), DRaaS relieves SMBs of equipment capital expenditure, dedicated power and cooling costs, site and system maintenance, and associated professional staff. Even DR testing in the cloud is automated, non-disruptive and much more cost effective than doing it on your own.

Think of the advantages of employing a service that is run by dedicated professionals 24/7/365, who continually conduct tests for service users, and who have collaborated on customer-specific DR solutions for scores of businesses of all kinds. When a disaster is declared, the provider can launch your plan in minutes with the confidence of having done this numerous times, not just on an exception basis in the face of chaos and uncertainty. You may view it as your back-up system, but to the provider it’s a primary system … your primary system until you failback to your own systems.

There may be no other time when having a trusted business partner is more important than during a disaster.

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