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Acer America
Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.

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333 West San Carlos Street
San Jose, California 95110
United States

WWW: acer.com

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News & Articles

April 16, 2012 |

Building a Business Continuity Plan

How do you get your clients back up and running after a major disaster? This is your guide to business continuity and disaster recovery.

How do you get your clients back up and running after a major disaster? This is your guide.

Beyond backup and disaster recovery lies business continuity. A business continuity plan includes not only how you will help your customers get their data back after a loss, but how they will run their business after a disaster. It’s a big job, but the good news is you may be doing much of this for your customers already.

To get started, look closely at each client’s business. Smaller companies commonly ignore the need for a BC plan, which leaves them vulnerable in the wake of disaster. Many larger companies, on the other hand, are demanding their suppliers provide a business continuity plan. The more critical the parts or service a company provides, the more detailed the plan must be.

“The majority of Fortune 1000 companies now ask suppliers for some level of BC planning,” says Doug Kavanagh, lead consultant for SunGard Availability Services, headquartered in Wayne, Pa. “They’re demanding this as they renew contracts.” This requirement is actually a good thing, since without that push, smaller businesses tend to investigate BC after a loss, not before.

“First, they have to identify and mitigate the risk,” says Kavanagh. “[Then] identify the processes needed to keep the business alive. Figure it will take 30 days to recover back to normal without a plan.”

Risk identification and mitigation may be as simple as knowing someone can break in and steal your servers. Improved building and server security lowers that risk considerably. For each step in a business process, identify the risk and determine how to diminish it.

Identifying key processes, such as sales, manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and invoicing will take time and effort. For each, list which employees do the work, what technology they use, what nontech tools they use, and the space they need to function. Each of those items must be defined in the BC plan, along with details on how those processes will continue after a disaster.

“Ask the customer about their business goals and objectives,” says Ryan Barrett, president of Oram Corporate Advisors, a small network integrator in the Boston area. “Accountants may not need to be back up and running for 18 hours, but a trading floor at a financial services company may need to be back up in three minutes.”

Solutions are so customized that Barrett asks customers for a price point, then tries to align that with their recovery goals. “Costs may range from $50 per month to $5,000 per month,” says Barrett. When the decision maker hears a high number, he or she often rethinks the company’s needs. Customers regularly change their minds about which services are critical and must be restored instantly when they see the cost of those immediate restorations.

“CEOs think anything can be recovered at any time,” says Barrett. “But this isn’t an episode of CSI.”

BC Tools in Common Use
The key to BC is off-site backup. “One hundred percent of my customers do off-site backup,” says Jeremy Nelson, president of Friendly Computer Services Inc., a managed services company with 21 employees in Tampa, Fla. “We won’t do managed services for them unless they do.”

article continues… Tampa can have extreme weather conditions, and Nelson knows how to protect his customers. “Hurricanes can’t sneak up on people,” he says. When one is heading toward Tampa, his customers often just move their servers out of their offices.

Another way to avoid such a disaster is to keep your servers elsewhere all the time, relying on any of the popular virtual desktop technologies or Software-as-a-Service providers. “Boston office space is really expensive, so the option of using an external data center is a lot less expensive by comparison,” says Barrett.

In addition, Boston traffic encourages people to work from home. “Remote and mobile employees are constantly testing your BC plan,” says Barrett. “Citrix VPNs, virtual desktops, VoIP with Find Me Follow Me all make it easy to work from anywhere.” Since working remotely is a BC requirement, check off that planning box for your customers using telework and mobile access solutions.

The use of application hosting of any kind makes Internet access critical. “Have a backup ISP. Go telco and wireless if you can. If not, get a second wired connection,” says Barrett, using a different provider.

Kavanagh cautions that remote servers must be placed intelligently. “If you’re on a fault line in California, moving your servers 20 miles on the same fault line won’t help.” Some of Barrett’s customers in Boston place their servers “halfway around the world.”

In Tampa, Nelson offers his customers “cheap insurance” for BC needs. If there’s a disaster on Monday, he gets on the phone and orders replacement hardware overnight. Reloading a server completely takes about a day. By Wednesday, the client can be in a temporary space running recovered data on new equipment. “This will satisfy auditors, and even be OK for medical records,” he says.

Beyond Technology
But there’s another piece to the puzzle. “It’s critical to look at the human element,” says Kavanagh. “In smaller businesses, one person may do four things. You need to understand those jobs and document them, so someone else can take over if necessary. This also prepares you if that person becomes ill.”

How will you contact employees to coordinate the new working situation after a disaster? Decide on your phone call list now, suggests Kavanagh. “There are automatic tools to contact people, but they’re not worth it until you have maybe a hundred people.” Do you have a list of all employees’ home and personal cell phone numbers? Is that list stored off-site?

Think beyond the typical IT equipment list, suggests Barrett. “If you’re working from home, can you cut the checks needed? Who cuts checks if the printer is gone?” Such back-office operations are easy to forget, and many customers with older accounting software may be limited to certain printers. Follow the workflow of back-office operations as part of your BC audit.

One of Kavanagh’s customers was a sheet metal shop. The company’s disaster took away their facility, raw materials, and tools. “They made a deal with other machine shops in the area to rent their machines during off hours.”

Such creativity can ease business continuity planning, but a plan is still necessary for every customer. When you examine a business, you may find best practices in modern managed services are a good foundation for your business continuity plan.

JAMES E. GASKIN is a freelance writer and former reseller based in Mesquite, Texas.


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