These days it usually means communicating with your customers and suppliers. Easy really. All you need are your email systems and data servers and you are operational.
But what price is ‘insurance’ against not being able to do business as usual? There are policies that will pay out in the event of loss of business through disasters or major system outages but what of the smaller problems associated with IT equipment?
Mission critical or departmental
In the past, the cost of ensuring the operation of such ‘mission critical’ systems was prohibitive to all but a few of the largest corporates – server clustering and replication have always come at considerable cost to the business.
A major disaster or fire or flood will trigger these emergency measures, but the most common issues in doing business come not from major disasters, but instead from the much more trivial – yet equally debilitating – disk drive or power supply failures that can readily and instantly render a server useless.
Every business should have some kind of data backup process in place. For the vast majority, however, a policy of copying data to a tape on a daily basis gives a very false sense of security. How long will it actually take to get back up and running in the event of failure – even assuming the back up tape has not been corrupted, or more fundamentally was actually changed daily in accordance with the accepted strategy?
Ask the IT Director or IT Manager this question and just measure their stress levels and the degree of confidence in the answer?
Of most concern is probably that the majority of Financial Directors (FDs) remain catastrophically unaware of just how long it would take the business to get up and running in the event of a disaster or failure which takes down the company’s servers.
Most FDs will be disturbed to hear that the business may be physically ‘down’ for several days. And ‘down’ is usually the term that best describes – “We can’t do any business!”
So what are the options? For those companies where there is a massive cost associated with downtime, it is easy to justify the latest and greatest technology solutions – mirrored, hot standby systems with automated failover. You know – the systems where people want to pull the plug just so they can show how great the business continuity solution is!
For the rest, the equation has, to date, been much harder. Balancing what they call a ‘Maximum Tolerable Outage’ (MTO) – in other words, how long your business can survive before things start falling apart – against the hassle and cost to make it happen.
Historically, companies have faced costs of up to £30,000 – £50,000 per server per year, plus support or maintenance costs to achieve a fully mirrored server environment or automated failover systems.
Traditionally enterprise level solutions are based on Microsoft-structured server clustering or replication aided by specialist system providers who have complex software to manage the mirroring process on duplicate systems.
Such systems require specialist knowledge, and an in-depth understanding of the system structure. If managed by the company’s internal resource the risk of failure, though greatly diminished is still carried by the company.
But things have changed dramatically with the arrival of services based on virtual technologies and Cloud-based solutions. In short, local and Cloud-based virtualisation has fundamentally changed the equation.
Organisations can now achieve rapid, workable business continuity and disaster recovery, with a recovery time objective (RTO) – measured in minutes rather than days – that is priced on a managed service or operational expenditure basis. A monthly insurance policy rather than a major capital investment that has precluded this type of safety measure at the departmental or SME level.
Time for a fresh look
It is time for organisations to look again at the cost of insuring against systems outages at the departmental and SME level. And it is also time to review whether it really is a good idea to keep copying everything onto a tape when no-one is really sure if it will ever be restorable?
Why is the typical business still reliant upon dated, time consuming and easily corrupted back up processes? Because that’s the way it has always been. The onus is now on FDs to challenge the IT Director on the changing cost of insuring ‘business as usual’.