Emergency services

In the concluding part of the series on business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR), NME sets forth the major issues and the key points that organisations should consider to implement and maintain an effective recovery strategy.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  September 30, 2007

In the concluding part of the series on business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR), NME sets forth the major issues and the key points that organisations should consider to implement and maintain an effective recovery strategy.

What are the criteria to keep in mind when choosing vendors for the BC/DR implementation?

Picking the right vendors for your BC/DR implementation can prove to be a difficult task.

"It's not easy to find BC/DR implementation vendors with real experience in handling a disaster scenario. So the best way is to go for a vendor who has done implementations for similar industries of similar size," says Ferosh Ummer, global head of consulting at Paladion Networks.

"The system integrator (SI) is the most important element as far as experience and expertise goes. That is critical. They should be able to not only build the DR facility but also provide strong ongoing support and maintenance. You can pick the best SI and they can bring in fantastic technology. But if they are half the world away, when disaster strikes, you might end up paying the price - not just in cost but in the reliability and level of service as well. That goes for SIs who have their feet on the ground, but their brains elsewhere as well," says Anwer Kotob, regional systems engineer manager for the Gulf and Pakistan at Cisco.

NME recommends: It would be wise to start with a consultant when you are picking vendors for implementation. Work along with partners and SIs that you are familiar with and have good support credentials. It would be wise to pick people who have good references with BC/DR implementations from your peers in the same industry if you don't know anybody familiar.

Is it necessary to pick the same ones as used in the core datacentre or is it better to choose a different set of solutions?

The unanimous feeling among most of the industry is that an organisation would be much better off choosing the same solutions as was put in place for the core datacentre.

"Picking the same technology used in the core datacentre when building a redundant one makes life much easier and saves a lot of effort spent on integration and compatibility testing. Different solutions are only recommended to organisations that possess a high level of technical expertise amongst its staff," says Nidal Yousef, technical advisor and an executive management team member at BTAT, one of the largest system integrators in KSA.

NME recommends: Implement the same solutions as you have used in your datacentre. This will help in better management and will reduce need to train staff across two different systems. It will help you develop expertise in your team and aid in avoiding unnecessary problems in the event of a disaster.

Are there any processes that I should be following to ensure implementation success?

"Definitely there are some processes to follow. First and foremost, is testing. You cannot do too much testing. You have to test under different failure scenarios, especially those which will prove to be disruptive to the business. You also have to check operational readiness. As personnel change, move, get added and leave the organisation, training has to be provided as a continuous practice," says Kotob.

According to him, it would be wise for organisations to also know what the next step will be once disaster recovery has taken over. Thought should be given to how and by what time another facility would be constructed when the main site is lost to a disaster.

"Good program management with clear implementation objectives is the key to successful disaster recovery implementations. Track the progress of the project closely and take timely corrective action," adds Ummer.

NME recommends:
Follow the plan that you have developed for the strategy but be ready to change when the situation demands it. And document, document, document.

How important are BC program management teams while maintaining the BC/DR implementation?

"BC program management teams play a critical role in not only implementing and maintaining the BC/DR plan, but also in reporting to the senior management on implementation progress, issues uncovered and the status of tests. The team can also lead the employee training and education process," says Yousef.

NME recommends: You cannot overestimate the importance of having a strong program management team. It would be ideal to include people from different departments to ensure that information permeates more layers of the firm.

Are there any standards/best practices that I should follow when deploying and maintaining BC/DR solutions?

"There are quite a few standards that can be followed by the BC/DR teams in a company to ensure success with implementations. Some of them are regulatory compliance related including Basel and Sarbanes Oxley both of which place particular emphasis on data availability, retention and disaster recovery. This will determine the big framework within which organisations can work," explains Kotob.

NME recommends: Standards are good to keep in mind but you would be well advised to modify the basics to fit the needs of your business. Try to go beyond the minimum that standards state to be better prepared if and whendisaster strikes.

What should I be doing to have the optimum levels of plan maintenance after deployment?

"The effectiveness of a BC plan is only valid if it is current. A process has to be setup within the company to monitor any changes in the organisation in terms of business or technology and update the plan accordingly. It is a continuous process of identifying critical business procedures, determining their recovery objectives and updating the business continuity plan to meet these objectives. Furthermore, regular testing of the BC plan ensures that the recovery procedures continue to be effective over time in response to business and technological changes," states Yousef.

NME recommends: Ensure that everybody in the organisation knows their responsibility. Maintain stringent documents of the plan and procedure and use every opportunity to popularise it among your staff. In other words, keep them on their toes.

How important is it to co-ordinate activities with your neighbouring concerns at a disaster recovery site?

Many organisations choose to share their DR site with other companies. This choice obviously comes with its own advantages and challenges.

"Cost of ownership and maintenance of a DR site can be significantly reduced if resources can be shared at the DR site. But the coordination and planning with the other organisation should be done carefully," says Ummer.

Even when running a DR site of its own, organisations would be better off to include their neighbouring organisations in as many procedures of the recovery process as is deemed prudent.

NME recommends: Sharing a DR site is not adviceable unless there are very convincing financial advantages to the move. It is always better to have your own set up - it is difficult enough with it being just for your business. Include your neighbours where you believe they can help you and be careful about how much information you divulge to them.

What would be the best way to set up links with third party organisations such as fire stations and police at the DR site?

This is a tricky but rather necessary element of BC and DR. Keeping your local services in the loop and calling in their help can save the situation in a calamity.

"Including departments like police and fire are based on local regulations to a large extent. In many cases local regulations describe what can and cannot be done - which systems can be connected and how they can be connected. From a technology point of view, a properly designed system should be able to recover without having to interact with any third parties," asserts Kotob.

NME recommends: Design your BC/DR facility to take over by itself when disaster comes visiting. However, including public services in the plan can help you potentially minimise the impact of the catastrophe at your main centre or at the DR site.

How do I train my organisation to think and live the BC/DR plan?

It is never sufficient to plan for a business continuity and disaster recovery strategy. IT managers and their teams have to build awareness of the strategy through the entire organisation to ensure that it is sustainable.

"First the organisation's senior management should recognise the importance of the BC/DR plan and give it full support. Business continuity standards and processes should be included within companywide risk management and business processes. Plans should be derived to train company employees on business continuity procedures. Each employee within the company should know their responsibilities in the case of a disruption to the business. Some companies have their business continuity plans published on their corporate portal to give their employees easy access to it," says Yousef.

NME recommends: Develop systems to continuously train your personnel on disaster recovery elements. Create videos, posters, mailers, maybe even a portal to convey information. Conduct mock-drills among the employees and ensure the steps to follow in a disaster is entrenched in their memory.

What are the biggest mistakes that most IT teams and organisations make while implementing and/or maintaining a BC plan?

"The biggest mistake is not going with a comprehensive plan that truly allows the organisation to recover in case of a disaster. Business continuity management not only addresses technical considerations, but also business process and human dimension. Proper testing and continuous maintenance of the plan are important," says Yousef.

Ummer agrees that too many organisations continue to focus on the IT and technical side and ignore the human element.

Kotob adds: "BC and DR has to be a living and breathing element of the organisation. It has to grow and evolve with the organisation organically. Otherwise, there is not much benefit to the company in having a BC/DR strategy."

NME recommends: You can have the best plans on paper. But if you do not make it work and if it is not flexible enough to include the dynamic components of your company then your BC/DR strategy might not work in the effective manner it should.

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