You store food against an emergency; is your IT system ready for a disaster, too?

We all have either read or actually prepared in some way for natural disaster emergencies at home by storing some water, blankets, food with a long shelf-life and other essentials needed to survive without the basic amenities we are all used to.

This is a proactive approach to planning for natural disasters. Most of the work is done before the emergency occurs, not during the actual event. Why do we plan this way? We do it to ensure that all the details and possibilities are covered with an effective solution to implement with little to no thought.

If your stockpile of supplies were to be used up, more than likely, you would restock your supply before the next hurricane, earthquake or tornado hit.

Safeguarding your business’ data requires a similar approach: putting the proper protocols and processes in place before disaster shows its ugly face.

If your business is ill-prepared for disasters, be it natural or manmade, your data is significantly at risk. Furthermore, if your business is data-centric, as most businesses are in the 21st century, complete data loss will mean complete loss of your business.

So, whether it is a leaking toilet in an office above yours, a roof that caved in due to a heavy snowstorm or a fire that burns your entire building to the ground, businesses must protect their data to survive. Luckily, these worst-case scenarios can be mitigated with proper planning and a proactive approach toward disaster recovery.

The following are tips to help implement a disaster recovery plan for your business:

Create a formal plan. Most businesses have some sort of disaster plan in place that details evacuation routes, includes a recall roster, has procedures for reporting and other details. The biggest asset to your company are the people in the seats. Their safety is paramount. A huge portion that is missing from most plans though, is how your data is managed, protected and recovered during and after emergencies.

When you create a plan and write it down, it forces you to think about any flaws you may have in your data management plan. If your server room is prone to flooding because of a leak in your roof or you don’t have an acceptable-use policy in place, a formal plan brings these flaws to light.

Your disaster recovery plan needs to account for every type and severity of emergency. Assign specific tasks to each member of your emergency reclamation team as part of the plan. Every staff member that is included in emergency responding should understand what their role is and that the business data is an asset – an asset that must be managed proactively before disaster strikes.

Organize your data. Identify the data that is vital to your business. This is the data that you cannot afford to lose – the data that would cause you to shut the doors should it be lost.

Account for the data on your server and organize it in a way that makes sense. Organization removes the odds that important data can be overlooked and missed during the recovery process.

Remember, you don’t need to keep everything, only the vital data. Keeping official records and baseline copies of documents being worked while removing unneeded data can reduce your data footprint.

Document your network. Create network maps and label all the hardware on your network. This will allow you to recreate your network in a new location as needed. Use a clear and easy-to-follow naming convention and share the network map with your emergency reclamation team and store the map in the cloud.

Part of your plan should include which team members will be in charge of moving equipment and who is in charge of making the final decision to move or stay. Having a network map and thorough hardware list will be useful for insurance purposes as well.

Test your plan in action. Test your team members’ knowledge and ability to respond to disaster by following the plan you have created. Conducting tests of your plan will identify any flaws and ensure that your data is safe in the event of a disaster.

Protect your hardware. While a lot of businesses are working toward moving to the cloud, almost all businesses still have hardware on-site. Protecting your hardware can save your data reduce the risk of total loss. Keep hardware off the floor to prevent flood damage. Having uninterruptible power supplies for your equipment will keep them safe from a power surge during thunderstorms. Keeping hardware free from dust, checking for worn cords and monitoring temperature levels are key to preventing fires. Server room fires often occur due to overheating complications. Ensure your server room is properly ventilated.

Don’t wait for the worst-case scenario. Accidents happen and natural disasters are unavoidable. You can’t control if someone cooks their microwavable popcorn for 20 minutes instead of following the directions. Or the possibility that your building’s pipes aren’t insulated, causing a burst in the winter, flooding your entire office space.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst-case scenario. Build redundancies and safeguards for your business and your data will emerge unscathed.

David Black is the director of business development for Wasatch IT., a Utah provider of outsourced IT services for small and medium-sized businesses.

Copyright Enterprise Business Newspaper Inc. 2018

Better prepare your SMB for emergencies with a business continuity plan. Here's everything you need to know to make an effective one.
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