Preparing for the unexpected

A combination of greater awareness, political unrest and regulation are encouraging companies to adopt disaster recovery and business continuity solutions.

Tags: Business ContinuityCommVault Systems IncorporatedDisaster recoveryEMC CorporationHPIBM ( DataFort
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Preparing for the unexpected Organisations in the Middle East have slowly gained awareness of the need for business continuity, but awareness does not always equate to preparedness.
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By  Keri Allan Published  July 19, 2012

A combination of greater awareness, political unrest and regulation are encouraging companies to adopt disaster recovery and business continuity solutions.

Disaster recovery (DR) is gaining significant ground in the region as organisations begin to prioritise data protection and focus on good corporate governance and overseas regulations. Research from eHosting DataFort has shown that companies across the Middle East are looking to improve their DR capabilities, with nearly 25% of those surveyed planning to commission an external data centre service provider to create a disaster recovery site.

Awareness of business continuity (BC) management and DR is definitely increasing in the minds of senior management; however, maturity and readiness of companies’ programs still needs to improve. A recent EMC report found that 82% of companies surveyed across the Middle East, Turkey and Morocco are not very confident that they can fully recover systems and data in the event of a disaster and 64% have lost data or suffered downtime in the last 12 months.

“Customers are aware of the need for disaster recovery; however, they need to relook at their overall strategy,” highlights Walid Gomaa, business unit and sales manager, HP Storage Division. “We see some policies and documents are in place but when it comes to real implementations, things are different.

“This gap can be addressed by creating a comprehensive strategy supported by documentation about the why, how, when and where; then testing it to ensure that when there is a need to switch to the disaster recovery site, the strategy is proven to be working,” he adds.

The growth of interest in DR/BC is partly due to worldwide events over the last decade, which have driven businesses to think differently about ‘what we do in the event of’ scenarios.

“We believe that any time there are significant social, political, geological or weather related events that occur in a region, companies re-evaluate their IT risk management strategy. This has occurred in other regions as well, such as Japan after last year’s earthquake and Europe during their times of social change,” says Richard Cocchiara, IBM distinguished engineer, global practice leader for IT Risk Consulting.

Since the start of the Arab Spring, specialists in the region have seen an increase in the number of DR/BC initiatives from different industry verticals. “The Arab Spring has had a mixed effect on the Middle East market,” explains Nizar ElFarra, pre-sales manager, EMC.

“Many establishments across different verticals have hastened their decision to invest in DR and/or disaster avoidance solutions that range from rudimentary backup and restore techniques to more elaborate active or active/main DR setups.

The instability in the region has caused a lot of companies to start hosting their systems outside their borders or even have a complete disaster recovery solution outside the Middle East,” ElFarra adds.

eHosting DataFort found that the Arab Spring has made Dubai and the UAE as a whole an attractive option for relocating offices, operations and locating secondary DR sites.

“In the current sensitive political scenario in the Arab region as well as the erratic economic conditions around the world, the UAE has emerged as an obvious safe haven, providing comfort through a host of opportunities that boost investor confidence and attract a large influx of people eager to set up business here,” says Sachin Bhardwaj, head of Marketing and Business Development, eHosting DataFort.

“Additionally, its strategic geographical location and strong infrastructural network are key contributors to the increase in foreign direct investment in the ICT sector. The political insecurities in the region served as a good wake-up call to Middle East enterprises on the importance of investing in a DR/BC strategy for the long term.”

More companies have also started to realise the need for a holistic view of BC as opposed to a more simplistic IT infrastructure view, but there is still a real mixture of strategies used – showing there’s clearly still room for improvement.

“[Around Y2K], organisations invested in technology backup. As practice matured, organisations realised that people, facility and business environment play an equally critical role. This led to transformation of DR programs into BC programs,” says Walid Kamal, senior VP, technology security, risk and fraud management, du.

“We see a real broad spectrum of strategies,” adds Adam Wolf, sales director, BIOS Middle East. “There are companies that equip their directors with sat-phones in case the network goes down, such as in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Other companies draw up contracts with similar businesses to use specialist equipment, rather than making the costly investments twice. More often than not, companies do take business continuity seriously.”

Globally, more DR/BC regulations are appearing. These are still in their early stages and companies are having to find their feet when it comes to compliance. Regulation is undoubtedly important in promoting DR/BC, as many companies will only invest when they absolutely need to or are told to, but a level of confusion is added when companies have to deal with varying standards from around the world.

“Multinational organisations based in the Middle East are having to create business continuity programs that will allow them to adapt to the regulations of the country in which they do business. That is why there is such activity around creating standards and procedures,” adds Steve Bailey, regional operations director, CommVault.

“Some global industries like finance have been pushed by US regulations to ensure their business continuity if they operate in the US, regulations which have impacted the business continuity in the global operations of these companies,” adds Paul-François Cattier, global vice president Datacenter, Schneider Electric.

While companies do respond to regulatory requirements, they respond even more to business pressures. Cattier believes that it’s always better to raise an issue, educate, guide and promote voluntary actions than to enforce regulations; however, when this option doesn’t work, “regulations will be efficient in ensuring the needed business continuity”.

Cocchiara believes that in the end BC will become a matter of business survival and growth: “That is what will really drive companies to implement an IT risk management strategy.”

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