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Disaster recovery is not something we typically think about…until disaster actually happens! Joshua Entwistle of Penarth based IT services experts Burning Flag ICT shares some food for thought on business continuity. 

“IT consultancy isn’t a very exciting field – we have a lot of wonderful and fantastic technologies that do amazing things… that no one but IT people want to talk about. Where we get to add a little drama, however, is when we’re talking about IT meltdowns and disaster recovery. So what exactly would your business do if the ceiling fell in, dumping a thousand gallons of pigeon infested rainwater onto your main server?

Some may say, “We back up our server… we’re OK!”, but just backing up your data is not a valid and complete recovery plan. Do you back up to tape? Because the tape drive just got soaked. You back up to removable media such as a USB stick? Great, but how long is the lead time on getting a new server to replace the one that just got destroyed? Can you survive a week (or three) long shutdown in the meantime? You have a spare server in a storage locker? Helpful, but sadly your power supply has also been drenched. Just backing up is not a failsafe….

‘Disaster recovery’ is a bit of a misnomer. Planning for IT failure, in terms of potential loss of data and hardware, should be part of your business continuity plan (BCP) – in other words, not so much a recovery, but a smooth step back into business as usual. Putting together a solid BCP should in fact be as important to your organisation as your HR policy, your H&S guidelines or your marketing plan; more so perhaps, because if your business continuity is disrupted you don’t need analytics to tell you your market share… it’s O%!

So how do you go about mitigating and avoiding disaster? Producing ICT Business Continuity Plans requires time, effort and expertise not just in IT but in your business too. For a small business, decisions have to be made on which processes need to continue immediately, which can “take a short break” and which can wait until the waters have receded and the fires finally died down. You need to have a plan to replace any vital hardware or service critical components and you need to have a backup method which is off-site, secure and portable to other machines.

We live in the age of cloud computing, where servers can be launched and fully functional in moments so those who can work from home should be allowed access to a cloud backup image of your server; the addition of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in the office can bring that cloud server into your network allowing it to work as a temporary stop-gap until a new, physical server can be installed. Try to provision as many of your staff as possible with laptops and have them take them home at night; you can provide docking stations in the office to allow them to work in a safe and DSE
compliant manner.

If you lose internet connectivity – a severed cable maybe, or a lightning strike at your local exchange – you need to know that there are backup services available. Make sure your staff have corporate smart phones with internet connectivity – should they be unable to use the office network connection they can still contact cloud and email services by tethering their mobiles to their machines.

All too often it is assumed that a backup will be sufficient but in my experience, fail to plan at your peril! Otherwise that hugely valuable client contact database you’ve spent years collating may just be a distant memory after the next freak weather event!”

Adds Evans Entwistle’s Damian Evans: “Bear in mind that a business has an obligation to retain its records for 7 years although HMRC can in theory go back indefinitely if they have reason to believe it is necessary. If you choose to keep your records electronically, and then subsequently lose all of your data, then in the event of any inspection, HMRC will deem all monies into your bank account as income (even if it is a birthday gift from Auntie Mabel) unless you can prove otherwise. Likewise, anything taken out of the bank account will be classed by the taxman as drawings, unless you have evidence to the contrary – so failing to safeguard your data might also hurt you fiscally, as well as operationally”.

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