Disaster Recovery: Prepare Customers For The Worst

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Here's the best disaster-recovery advice available: Avoid disasters altogether. But as most VARs know from experience, that's not always possible.

Take it from Patrick McNicholas. The president of Maverick Computers, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based system builder and solution provider, became an expert on disaster recovery when his own business had to rebound from five hurricanes in three years.

Each time, as his region dealt with power outages, disrupted telephone service, damaged roofs and disrupted lives, McNicholas and his staff worked untold amounts of overtime, not just getting Maverick back in business but helping customers get back in business.

"Our own training has been through our own misfortune," McNicholas said. "We had three years in a row of back-to-back hurricanes. We lost our roof two years in a row. We learned from getting beat up ourselves. We had the worst-case scenario followed by the worst-case scenario."

McNicholas and his staff have come to learn these key points about disaster recovery:

• Finding a list of hard-and-fast best practices to deploy before and after a disaster is challenging. Data redundancy is a well-known facet of disaster recovery, but many other intangibles, such as restoring lost telephone service, are not.

• There is no one technology vendor that provides a turnkey disaster-recovery solution.

• Training in disaster recovery is lacking, leaving solution providers on their own to acquire the skills necessary for auditing customers before and assisting them afterward.

• Government help is minimal or nonexistent in developing plans for restoring essential technology services to small businesses such as health-care providers, law enforcement agencies and even some utilities.

The upshot is that Maverick has developed its own disaster-recovery solutions, including a portable satellite telephone and what amounts to a data center in a moveable storage pod that can be delivered to clients whose infrastructure has been wiped out.

Data Recovery Only The Starting Point
While Maverick learned the hard way that disaster recovery entails far more than just backing up and recovering data and restoring IT infrastructure, that is a focal point for solution providers when planning for the worst.

For businesses, the "worst" is often categorized as the complete loss of a facility, along the lines of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina or the Bay Area earthquake of 1989. The first question VARs need to ask is whether a disaster-recovery solution is even viable.

The loss of a facility would be a death knell for a retail operation such as a supermarket, auto repair shop or a factory, and rapid data recovery would become less of a concern. On the other hand, the loss of a facility may be little more than an inconvenience for a services-driven business, such as a law firm or financial office. In those businesses, data and records are the tangible items that must be protected.

NEXT: Managing the audit

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