Horse Sense #69

In this issue:
  • When disaster strikes, will I be ready?
This article is not technical.  It is intended to get everyone asking this question:  "When disaster strikes, will I be ready?"  It does not matter how lucky you think you are.  Eventually, some sort of calamity will befall your business.  While you may be able to recover from that disaster without a plan, having one will make it less painful.  While it is more dramatic to talk about "disaster recovery," that term is rather limited.  Instead, you want to focus on "business continuity," or what it takes for the business to continue operating under normal and adverse situations.
Business continuity is not just about products because products alone won't get you to  where you want to be. Your management needs to have goals in mind and needs to set up appropriate policies, procedures, standards, expectations, training programs, and notifications to meetthese goals. Management also must provide for outside support where
it is appropriate. Unfortunately, people tend to purchase products, but then not pursue these other steps to ensure success. There are few magic pills in life. Simply buying a product will not save you from a disaster.  Seat belts save lives, but only if people use them correctly.
Iron Horse has always been interested in disaster prevention, the best form of business continuity planning. Once a true disaster occurs, it is often too late to help. Businesses that experience a significant data disaster will lose a lot of money and some will never reopen. Preparing for a disaster with backups isn't the answer. Instead, we should focus on what is really needed: reliable, accurate, and rapid restoration of the capability to do business.
Instead of calling it backup, we should call it restore. You can have the best backup software in the world, but you also need to know the business value of the information you are trying to protect (policy). It will determine to what lengths you will go to protect it. You need to protect your information with reliable software, but you also need to constantly monitor backup results and attempt periodic restoration to make sure the process works (procedures). You will have to have some idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable (standards). Everyone will need to know what to expect in the case of a restoration (expectation and notification). Everyone involved will need appropriate training that involves the software, hardware, and procedures. Finally, you will need to know where to find help if your internal resources can't handle the problem (support).
At Iron Horse, we recently had an object lesson in how you can't buy a pill for a disaster. I went in for a simple operation 12/27/07. A few days later, while at home recovering, I suffered complications and was admitted to the hospital. Iron Horse went from experiencing
some expected and planned for downtime to unexpected loss of its President for an extended period.
We tried to keep client and business disruption to a minimum, but there was disruption. Business continuity plans should assume there will be some pain. If your business continuity plan comes into play, your business isn't operating normally. Don't expect things to run
smoothly, and don't expect that you can plan for all contingencies. Business continuity planning helps keep the pain manageable.
Fortunately, I had my colleagues at Iron Horse to step in to handle the workload while I was out. Projects had to be canceled or postponed. Items that required my personal attention or response had to wait. I had no access to the Internet or my computer in the hospital. However, I was available to answer key questions from my staff, the most important of which was, "How do we get paid and how do we pay others?" That answer was fairly simple, I had previously arranged for someone else to access the payroll processing system and to sign corporate checks. Our business continuity plan worked, but not as smoothly as it could have. Business continuity planning is an ongoing exercise. As your business changes or you test the plan, you will see how it needs to be updated.
This brings up a couple of key points in business continuity planning. You need to know what is most important in your business and that ALWAYS involves the health, morale, security, and support systems for your people (policy). You need to make sure that their
needs are met or the disaster will worsen. You not only need backup plans, but people who know what to do with those plans when disaster strikes (procedures). You need to take the time to reassure everyone and explain to them what their role is (notification). You need to
expand your notifications to those outside the company as well. Hopefully, you should be able to give them a target time when you will return to operations, but you should also give them an idea of how your situation will specifically effect them (expectations). You need to prioritize and place the greatest needs first (policy and standards). And, you may need the help of someone outside of the business to handle some recovery tasks (support).
Iron Horse is only now starting to return to more normal operations. That is because AFTER a disaster, there is a recovery period. You not only need to recover from the disaster itself, but from the backlog of things you had in process and the new things that have come up
since. Disasters have a frustratingly long tail.
Could you survive any of the following?
  • A phone outage that lasts for two weeks.
  • A major customer defaulting on a debt equal to 10% of your gross income for the whole year.
  • Loss of a key employee for a week or more.
  • Weather preventing all your employees from reaching the office.
  • A power fluctuation taking out half of your network servers.
  • A multiple day power outage.
  • Denial of service attacks against your e mail servers, web servers, and firewalls.
  • A flood in your server room.
  • Crossed wires by an electrician that destroyed your equipment.

At Iron Horse, we have survived all this and more over the last few years. That doesn't mean it was easy.
Do you think your business continuity efforts are up to snuff? Or could you use some help in planning for the worst? If so, contact us at Iron Horse. You can be sure we will lend a sympathetic ear.
If you are interested in learning more about restoring your office's critical data after a disaster, e mail me at and ask for our FREE report "Little Known Facts About Data Backup" and tell me if you have a specific problem in mind that you are trying to solve.
©2008 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse