Eight days a week

OTTAWA — The speed at which companies can recover from disasters is growing in importance as the world moves closer to operating 24/7, say experts on contingency planning and electronic back-up systems.

“This sense of (urgency) has increased over the last seven or eight years. A lot

of businesses are saying: ‘We can’t survive if we can’t do business 24/7,’” says Jay Grove, technical specialist with Hewlett-Packard Canada Co. Grove was one of several speakers that addressed the “IT Disaster Recovery Planning” conference in Ottawa this week.

Indeed, the “cycle times” for businesses are faster than ever before, adds Arthur Pelletier, director of client services for Export Development Canada.

Extreme examples of today’s 24/7 companies include Yahoo!, eBay, and Amazon, he says. Day traders are also heavily dependent on an impenetrable system to deal with all-important transactions.

“If these (businesses) are not up, they don’t exist . . . and they’re out of business,” says Pelletier. “If they’re down for a long time, you might as well close the doors.”

Particularly attune to such scenarios are financial institutions, confirms Mike Ross, manager of IT service continuity management at TD Bank Financial Group.

“We have plans in place, and we’re moving toward looking at different options and implementing new solutions where necessary,” Ross says. “TD is going down that road as are other banks. I think quicker recovery times and no data loss is where large companies, especially financial institutions will need to go (in the future).”

Consequently, some organizations are highly sensitive to disaster recovery and are willing to invest in high-end back-up systems capable of data mirroring and electronic vaulting.

Such systems can instantly send back-up files on important transactions to a second site. Ideally, these systems ensure a seamless transition from the home site to the back-up site if ever there are unexpected problems prompted by such things as virus attacks, power outages, fires or terror attacks. A second site also provides an audit trail option for firms that need to retrace the course of their operations following a disaster.

While instantaneous back-up systems carry a hefty price tag, they could actually save a tremendous amount of money, says Pelletier. He points to the non-financial risks businesses take if they don’t have the necessary infrastructure. Client-launched court cases or the damage to a corporate reputation that follows a disaster are things that companies need to be wary of, he says.

“Businesses have to look at what the real risks are and they have to understand that it’s an insurance they’re doing, not an investment,” says Pelletier. “If you think of it as ‘I’ve got to put money into something,’ it’s really wrong-headed. I’m not saying, write a blank cheque either because that would be equally unwise.”

Companies have to ask themselves: “What can I live with?” adds Pelletier. “Sit down and examine your business elements. . . . How critical is this function really, and over what interval of time does that criticality present itself?”

It all comes back to what bare essentials the business requires to still be up and running, adds Grove. By listing these things, a company can quickly determine whether they need a traditional “Chevy Truck” system that backs things up once a day or every few hours versus a data-mirroring or electronic vaulting system.

Regardless of the back-up system an organization chooses, it should always expect the unexpected. There’s only so much companies can do to prepare for the future, says Grove.

“It’s about going back to review previous incidents, looking at how you dealt with them and simulating (scenarios). Looking forward, it’s a wide open window. Obviously, we hope we don’t see another (blackout) or another Sept. 11, but we can’t predict these things.”

Pelletier adds companies can never do enough testing. EDC regularly tests its business contingency plan to refine it and make improvements where necessary.

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