Monday, 2 February 2009

Disaster? What disaster?

There is much debate and some considerable hype regarding Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning. A disaster that requires one to invoke a Disaster Recovery plan (DR) is all too often thought of as that 'smokin' hole in the ground'. Business Continuity Planning (BCP) is equally considered as that plan that we will implement following our disaster. Whilst it is true that a 'smokin' hole in the ground' would certainly constitute a disaster, it is not this that would normally cause the invocation.

Take today, for example. Much of Southern England has been crippled by snow that has been swept in from Siberia. Virtually all train services have been affected - many have been stopped altogether. Bus services in London have been withdrawn on safety grounds. Many, many roads are impassable, with cars and lorries abandoned all over the place. (True, we're not very good at dealing with a bit of snow, but that's another matter!)

It is the snow that will cause some companies (those with a reliable plan in place) to invoke DR. Many staff have been unable to reach their offices and this could have disastrous impacts for some organisations. Imagine, if you will, this scenario. Company 'X' take backups of their systems every night. They are required to keep these backups for regulatory reasons (maybe they are regulated by the FSA, or are required to keep them for health and safety reasons). Today, however, the staff are unable to get to the office in order to change those backup tapes. That means that tonight the current backups will get overwritten, or if its a system that knows it is last night's backup, it may fail because there are no new tapes. This could easily be a disaster.

More often than not, the reason for invoking DR is not a physical disaster, but is a more subtle problem that means the business cannot run as usual. The inability of staff to access the office is a good example of how DR may become necessary - even though nothing physical has happened directly. Having a good DR Plan in place is essential in today's world and it is only the fool hardy that don't have one.

So, what about BCP? How does that come into play? Contrary to the belief of many, it is not necessarily the plan that is only implemented after a disaster. It may be that in a situation like today, where weather has impacted the ability of the business to trade as usual, BCP comes into the fore. It may not be necessary to invoke full DR, but BCP may provide the solution. BCP is, as is suggested by the name, all about continuity. If the staff can't access the office, what plans are in place? Can they work from home? Will they have access to email, the company intranet or those essential files that are stored on the network drive? Who will co-ordinate the staff? Who will call them and tell them what they need to do? If there are only limited resources available, who are the most important people to have access, and who can the business do without for a limited time? A good BCP plan will have all the answers ... and a really good BCP plan will be up-to-date!

DR and BCP are no longer options for a business, they are essential. So many companies suffer unnecessary problems, many financial, simply because they hadn't planned for events that, whilst weren't directly attributable to the business, impacted it's ability to trade as normal. Having a reliable DR Plan in place, ensuring that it is regularly tested and that the business can get back from a DR position is essential. The DR Plan, however, should never be thought of alone - it is imperative that it is accompanied by a robust, up-to-date, BCP. With both in place, the chances of an external event impacting the business are significantly reduced and, even if they do, the business will be ready to deal with the situation.

Migration Solutions is the only truly independent consultancy specialising in the data centre industry that can offer informed, unbiased, advice on matters data centre or computer room related. If you would like to know more about the services offered by Migration Solutions, including the development of robust DR and BCP planning, visit

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