Tech business disasters are outages, not just acts-of-God

In the Midwest, we don’t have to worry about acts-of-God happening as frequently as our friends on the coasts do. But disasters affecting tech businesses don’t have to be natural disasters to be equally as devastating to the bottom line. September is National Disaster Preparedness month, so take a few moments to reassess and perhaps reinvigorate your business continuity strategy.

What would it cost you if your voice and data service went down for a week? What if it was down for a month? Many businesses experienced service interruption like this due to the extreme cold in the Midwest last winter. If the core of your business is reliant upon the cloud but you can’t get to it, that’s not just a challenge or inconvenience, it’s a business disaster.

Hopefully, natural disasters and acts-of-God are the least frequent service interruption business owners experience. Something as simple as a backhoe cutting through fiber lines at a construction site or a fire or flood from broken pipes are much more likely, and tech leaders need to think about how they are protecting their businesses and ensuring continuity for employees and customers alike. There are both hard and soft cost associated with outages. It’s not just that your customers can’t reach you, it also affects your employees who can’t work, even those who telecommute if they do so via VPN. The reliability of your network is probably the number one disaster preparedness topic that tech leaders should consider during national disaster preparedness month.

Todd England, director of enterprise sales at Comcast Business – Heartland Region, offered these four tips  to ensure your small business is ready for the next disaster — whether it’s a major storm that takes out your network or a construction accident that damages a utility line.

Business Continuity Plan
Especially for small businesses, disaster preparedness often is not consistently top of mind. Few have a business continuity plan, a written strategy for quickly and accurately recovering business processes that rely on IT infrastructure. And fewer still bother to update or test the plans they filed away someplace long ago. But small businesses (like medium-sized and large companies) should make sure they have a plan in place, that someone is appointed to oversee its updates and execution, and that the plan prioritizes the important activities for keeping the company running (or getting it back up soon) after a disaster occurs.

Redundant IT Network
Hand-in-hand with having a business continuity plan is having a redundant IT network. If the primary network is knocked off line, this redundancy ensures an automatic and smooth switch to a backup system without any noticeable disruption of service.

Such redundancy is especially important now that small businesses are becoming exceedingly reliant on uninterrupted connection to the Internet, on which they not only conduct much of their business but through which they access the cloud where they store much of their data. If this Internet connection fails, they often are left without email and telephone service or ways to handle many of their cloud-based enterprise operations or for their customers to conduct business with them online.

Multiple and Separate Paths to the Internet
Multiple paths to the Internet help provide this redundancy. Many businesses think their operations are secure if they have just one circuit going out of their office to the Internet. They’re not. Instead, this one connection leaves their operations vulnerable. If this pipe is cut by even a small event, such as onsite construction, the company faces its own disaster and could be out of business for a few hours to several days.

It’s also important for a company to have diverse and separate paths from the building to the utility line. Some small businesses do have multiple paths that leave the building on separate sides. But few ever consider what happens to the pipes when they reach the street. This is a mistake.

Frequently, the pipes go to the same pole or manhole where they join together onto a single network. This configuration provides a false sense of security for your business. It offers protection from a disaster that hits the building but no security against a disaster occurring along the line after the two pipes have been joined. For this reason, the pipes should remain separate all the way to the Internet.

Multiple and Separate Providers
Small businesses need to make sure these separate circuits are provided by multiple providers. Some may offer lines leaving the building on separate sides, but invariably they join together at the end of the block and become part of a single service provider’s network.

There are, however, some providers that offer true alternate paths. The only way for small businesses to know what they are really getting is to ask their service providers many questions about the pipes, such as “are your services 100% diverse from my existing provider”, “how are you building into my facility” and where does it go once it hits the utility pole?”

Not having a business continuity plan and redundant paths from multiple providers to the Internet can be very costly to your business. According to InformationWeek, U.S. businesses lose more than $25 billion every year because of IT downtime. To learn how much a disaster could cost your company for each hour of downtime, divide your annual revenue by the number of your company’s workdays in a year, then divide the result by 24 to determine the hourly cost.

Most companies making this calculation conclude that they need to be better prepared for a disaster.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joshua Hall is editor of techpoint.org. He writes about Indiana tech companies, jobs, people & events. @joshua2349