Nothing is more important than your disaster recovery (DR) and business continuation plan when you really need it -- but the odds are pretty high that you never will. Hardly anyone ever says this out loud, but there is an unspoken understanding in IT and elsewhere in the business that disaster recovery planning and testing can always take a back seat when there are other revenue-enhancing and cost-cutting projects screaming to get done.
All this is starting to change, however, as DR begins an ascent on the CIO’s “to do” list. This isn’t because of recent memories of Hurricane Katrina, the volcano in Iceland, or the tsunami in Japan. Instead, the sudden leapfrogging of disaster recovery to the front page of IT strategic plans is integrally tied to the idea of cloud-based services that can be provisioned to users instantaneously. These services are accompanied by rigorous sets of SLAs (service level agreements) that commit IT to 24/7 processing and five nines uptime for internal users, as well as for external customers if you are providing a commercial cloud offering.
You can hear the new DR refrain begin to echo out of CIO offices around the world. In Italy, a payment processor’s CIO recently revealed that it will now accept nothing short of 100 percent uptime for payment processing operations. It has spent the past three years consolidating datacenter operations, implementing cloud-based technologies, and investing heavily in multiple communications channels between datacenters. It has also invested in complex data mirroring scenarios and failover mechanisms that allow computers in two datacenters to parallel process transactions with complete transparency for end users should any production problem or disaster strike.
Across the Atlantic, a large Midwest manufacturer has implemented “follow the sun” IT services and computing to guarantee any of the company’s 200,000 worldwide employees can get an IT expert at any time, day or night, in any time zone to resolve a potential production problem or failover scenario. On the East Coast, a major hospitality industry company now shards its database in datacenters around the world. That way, its premium transaction processing is unaffected by the political and physical slowdowns of Internet communications between countries that can render the company less competitive and even inoperable in locales far from the central office.
In every case, disaster recovery and business continuation becomes a vital ingredient of the ultimate business solution. Even the best executed of services can be interrupted by disaster, and in an IT environment that is nonstop and intensely competitive, taking a “time out” to recover from an unexpected situation simply isn’t tolerated anymore.
The trick for CIOs now is to figure out how to design disaster recovery thinking into everyday thinking, so that a new generation of tough SLAs can be met. Doing this is a near impossible task if you approach disaster recovery planning and testing the old-fashioned way -- as a separate project. This is why it makes sense strategically and operationally to include DR planning and testing for each new application and/or system you incorporate into your IT infrastructure. If DR and business continuation are added to the project task list and the project is not cleared to be implemented until the DR plan is written and tested, you have the necessary insurance that DR gets done.
Many CIOs are not sold on this approach to DR. But as more businesses are understanding the implications of a nonstop global market, CIOs are likewise beginning to understand it -- and it is getting easier for them to sell their directors and other C-level executives on the idea.