November 13, 2012
Beyond our initial reactions of shock, and sympathy for the terrible human toll, the unprecedented business impact of Hurricane Sandy on some of the most populous areas of the Eastern United States should provoke us to wonder:“What should we be doing NOW to prepare for a potential future in which such horrendous weather events are likely to become more common place in every costal area globally?”. Let’s explore this topic from a Business Continuity planning perspective and see how simple IT Geo-Diversity measures can thwart disaster.
The summary disruption of all basic services (civil security, water/sewer, power, gas, telephony, food & fuel supply chains, etc.) which resulted from Sandy caused an immediate cessation of normal human activity, including commerce, to an unprecedented level in the USA. Even the Stock Exchange was shutdown, not just for hours, but for days. The first-round effects were clear and stunning. Virtually every business office or operational location in the region, from the corner store to the largest employers, was immediately halted for an indeterminate period, some being totally destroyed physically. This was not merely a matter of waiting out a storm for the lights to come back on. If ever there was a true test of the DR (Disaster Recovery) Plan on file, this was it.
One important factor for successful BC (Business Continuity), which is often missed in traditional DR Plans, is that of Geographic Diversity. The concept is simple enough; establish a trusted service relationship with a geographically ‘remote’ partner such that your IT Operations are supported regularly from afar, while freeing your local tech staff to focus on higher order development and continuous improvement projects when not tasked with direct support. And of course you’ll be saving recurring operating expense too.
Unfortunately, most IT Planners focus much more on DR than BC; e.g. on what to do if some bits of local hardware or connectivity fail. In such cases, DR Best Practices teach things like proper Backup provisions and Fail-over mechanisms for shifting loads to working hardware, etc. This is all well and good when a disc/server crashes or a fuse blows, but what about the people? Ironically, many plans fall short of thinking outside the Hosting Facility walls to the tech workers and their availability circumstances. For example; what happens when you’ve built a High-Availability environment in a stable hosting facility somewhere (or better yet, in an appropriate Cloud setting) and then Sandy comes along and cripples your engineering office? It may be days, or even weeks, before people can reassemble ‘at the office’ and continue their support work for your hosted technology. What’s your BC status then?
Some of you may say “We pay a 3rd party provider that promises to give us a temporary workplace, complete with laptops & ISP (maybe in a shopping-mall nearby) for our people to work from if the office is compromised.” Nice thought if your site burns down, but not so useful if your town was flooded. (Side note: I’m curious on what happened to such clients in place like NY & NJ this time? I wouldn’t want to have my business riding on those promises).
One of the multiple values delivered by establishing simple and cost-effective Geo-Diversity arrangements from an IT Support perspective is that, rather than paying for insurance policy type measures (like those reliant on 3rd party temp-office providers) which have no other intrinsic payback, when you’re operating in a Geo-Diverse regime, your operation can simply ride-out the storm of such events without service interruptions.
Can Geo-Diversity really be this effective, even under Sandy-like conditions? Yes it can. Case in point: Joe Masotti, Managing Director, IT of Centerline Capital Group (CCG, www.centerline.com) told us today about how his Geo-Diversity Plan provided a disruption-free experience for their national market.While Joe’s team was unable to access the CCG facility in downtown NYC due to Sandy’s destruction, his offshore Geo-Diversity Support Team simply continued managing their system, making sure it was up when power returned, and assisting users in getting back to normal.
Another example is that of XTIVA, a recognized financial services SaaS Solution provider, based in NYC (www.XTIVA.com). In XTIVA’s case, they have not only virtualized their US employee base, with people working across the country on a daily basis, but they have also established an effective and geographically diverse QA and Engineering organization off-shore. With this arrangement, XTIVA was able to endure the east coast impact of Sandy without disrupting either their SaaS production solutions, or their personal touch in client relationship management. Product development and production operations both continued successfully, while the affected US staff were able to deal with their own circumstances along the coast.
Both Centerline and XTIVA have benefited from the Geo-Diversity of their offshore partner organization, a company called Core Value (www.theCVSi.com). Core Value is a member of The Tech-Azur Global Collective; we have collaborated on many successful client engagements together, providing a combination of strategic and tactical services that solve real-world challenges elegantly and cost-effectively.
- According to research conducted on behalf of the Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) on the U.S. Demographic Shifts; Unequal population growth and distribution among the nation’s regions will require emergency managers to conduct more strategic planning. Much of population growth is towards coastal regions and flood-prone areas. Of course this prominently includes the nation’s technology workforce. Combine this trend with likely global climate change ramifications and the need for geo-diversity of the technical workforce becomes unprecedented.
- Adequate IT preparedness will need to include not only traditional DR / BC provisions, but must also evolve with the times and incorporate appropriate virtualization of hosting and the technical workforce as well. Cloud hosting, in all its current renditions, in concert with geo-diversity of technical staffing, both supported by effective collaboration tools, will become de rigueur for continuously effective IT operations.
Rather than being confounded by the enormity of the disruptive impacts of mega-events like Sandy, better to get practical and consider how best to prepare for them for the sake of your business and employees.Knowing that you’ve made provisions that yield benefits even in the absence of such events provides proper confidence, while sincerely hoping, like the rest of us, that we’ll never encounter them.
Author: Michael M. Richardson, Tech-Azur
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