The disaster around the corner

Middle East enterprises need to realise that it is better to be prepared than be sorry when it comes to natural disasters

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  September 4, 2008

In the world of information technology in the Middle East, disaster recovery is definitely the poor, ignored second cousin. This has remained so even over the past year, as general maturity in technology investments and usage has remained on an upsurge. In this situation, the rather cavalier attitude towards disaster recovery can come as a shock and a scare.

Take this example. I was talking to the IT manager of a huge oil and gas major in the region. We were discussing the major technology investments and usage patterns of this organisation, which is one of the largest of its sectors in its country. The company does not believe in cutting corners when it comes to technology. It has invested in state-of-the-art systems and software, and considers security, across its network and applications, to be of the highest priority.

However, when it comes to disaster recovery (DR), the company has done only the minimum necessary. It has indeed set up a DR site, but in a building a few doors away and the IT manager did accept that this site could help them handle minor disturbances (like sudden power failures) only. If there was a major natural disaster, however, they would have no way of saving their infrastructure or information.

This company is not alone in maintaining DR sites that remain scarily close to primary datacentres. That is if they have a DR site to begin with. I have never really understood this mentality. Why build a DR site so close to home that it will be destroyed along with the primary site when there is a true disaster? It seems to defeat the entire purpose of a DR site, and yet enterprises in the Middle East continue to do it.

One of the predominant reasons for this continuing trend is that most enterprises are guided by the mindset of ‘that is not going to happen to me’. They believe that the chances of a true-blue natural disaster striking the region are minimal; so minimal that they need to account only for situation-based back-up emergencies, like power failures or cooling systems breaking down at the primary location. This is why enterprises build DR sites close to the primary sites, because they do not take the idea of a natural catastrophe seriously.

If you wanted more evidence of this attitude, it would be the fact that even when they build DR sites close to primary datacentres, enterprises often do not have a comprehensive escalation and remediation process when a disaster – large or small – does strike. People to turn to are not detailed, steps to take when things go down are often not pencilled down as policy documents, and there is no clear chain-of-command to turn to.

It is about time that Middle East enterprises did away with these casual attitudes towards disasters, and put in place adequate measures to help them steer through bad times with minimal damage. While this situation was tolerable and understandable even a year ago, as the industry matures and enterprises demand more from vendors, there is no excuse for them to not be prepared for an unplanned circumstance that might come visiting any time.

Yes, enterprises do run the chance of never having to face a disaster at all. However, it certainly is worse to be unprepared for one that occurs, than being prepared for one that does not come around.

3945 days ago
Mustapha Huneyd

You article raises much needed awareness and might act as a wake up call for most organizations, however its focus on DR is a bit legacy. I think, organizations MUST establish a Business Continuity Management System, where DR forms a subset. That way the survival of key business functions remains the key objective and not an IT function only.

3945 days ago

Dear Sathya, I think your assumption are approaching this problem from the wrong angle, most of us IT managers know the way to implement a comprehensive DR plan. However our hands are tied behind the back in this case. Cost of internet bandwidth is the killer here. Just another way that our ISPs are putting ME business at a disadvantage against the connected world. Take for instance your example above, I'm sure that they have a huge data center, well capable of continuous data protection, but how much will it cost to replicate that data to another Emirate much less another country? If they can't justify the costs involved then what chance for the SMB's out there. The cost of business internet access here is a real show stopper and not just for backup, I meet untold companies in Internet City, yes Internet City, the home of the internet in Dubai complaining that the cost is stunting their normal business, without even considering off site backup. Until the cost is reduced, DR and off-site backup will take a back seat for 99% of business in the UAE and we will just pray that the disaster doesn't come on our watch. Rgs. Derek

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