Best laid plans

How Middle Eastern businesses are preparing their defences and securing company data against rising threats in the region.

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By  Duncan MacRae Published  May 1, 2007

While the issue of data loss was once an afterthought, it now appears that businesses are growing ever-more aware that an appropriate spend on disaster recovery solutions could reap massive rewards in the long-run.

According to a recent survey undertaken by GCR Custom Research for HP, the issue has become more of a priority with large chunks of the IT budget being made available to develop IT infrastructures that will keep businesses ticking over in the most extreme circumstances.

Mohamed Nasreddine, MIS engineer at Al Ameen Financial Brokerage in Dubai feels that while the main reasons for data loss can vary from country to country, it must be top of the agenda for businesses everywhere.

"In Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, the loss of power is often due to power shortage during wars," says Nasreddine, "as the main sources of power are sometimes destroyed, or the available sources are scarce.

"As for the Gulf region, I believe the main reasons are overheating, especially during the summer season.

"Preparing for disaster is a must for companies. They simply must avoid losing critical data by installing emergency sources of power such as UPS, batteries and a generator."

The survey results suggest the majority of IT managers are now on the same wavelength as Nesreddine. Around 80% of IT decision-makers at both large and medium-sized businesses view business continuity and availability as an increased priority for 2007 and key to sharpening their competitive business edge.

Overall, the results mark a shift in strategy for many companies, which have historically taken a reactive approach to recovering from unplanned downtime or disasters, to longer term business continuity planning.

Many businesses in the Middle East have been learning the hard way, while many more have been looking and learning. The Middle East is home to some of the most extreme working conditions that businesses could possibly have to endure, so there are companies in countries such as Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan that have had no choice but to invest heavily in disaster recovery solutions.

Roshan, a leading telecom operator in Afghanistan, has not just had to prepare for disaster - it has had to live with it.

The telecom firm has a presence in over 160 villages and cities in the country, as well as a roaming service with ten other operators around the world, and offers GPRS in Kabul along with a mobile banking service.

The company's importance to the Afghan nation as a whole cannot be overestimated.

By the end of 2006 Roshan had paid US$75 million to the government of Afghanistan, making it the biggest taxpayer. There are roughly 300,000 people in the country employed directly or indirectly by the company and to date it has invested $280 million in Afghanistan.

The company's growth in recent years has been phenomenal, which has caused further problems in its disaster recovery plans.

"Two years ago it wasn't important because we could just restart the computer and do a cold start," explains Karim Khoja, CEO at Roshan. "Today we have 1.3 million customers. We have a customer registration information system and we've got CRM. If you lose any data you're basically writing off real money.

"The Afhgan people are not very forgiving. A few weeks ago in Dubai, Etisalat's network was down for about two hours. You couldn't get through and you couldn't send text messages. If that was the case in Kabul our own customers would have stormed our shops, thrown stones and wrecked the shops. So business continuity is not just about keeping your business alive, it's sometimes about keeping yourself alive," Khoja adds, with tongue firmly in cheek. "But we can't afford to have a million angry customers queuing outside our door saying that they are not happy."

There are many factors that come into play when planning for business continuity in Afghanistan, as opposed to the Gulf. It is an exceptionally harsh environment. There is no mains electricity so Roshan must generate its own electricity in every single site throughout the country. Right now it has around 3,000 generators, as well as fuel tanks.

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