Business continuity is a business’s level of readiness to maintain critical functions after an emergency or disruption. These events can include:
- Security breaches
- Natural disasters
- Power outages
- Equipment failures
- Sudden staff departure
Leading organizations make business continuity a top priority because maintaining critical functions after an emergency or disruption can be the difference between the success and failure of a business. If key business capabilities fail, a quick recovery time to bring systems back up is crucial. Getting a business continuity strategy in place before disaster hits can save a tremendous amount of time and money. The plan for recovery needs to include roles and responsibilities, as well as which systems need to be recovered in which order. There are many aspects of business continuity to consider and test, which is another reason to plan ahead. For instance, large data sets can take an excruciatingly long time to restore from a backup, so failover to a remote data center might be a better solution for businesses with a large amount of data.
When resiliency and recovery plans fail, or when an unforeseen event occurs, a contingency plan can act as a last resort. A contingency plan includes a practiced strategy and plan for last-resort needs. These needs could range from asking third-party vendors for help to finding a second location for emergency office space or remote back-up servers.
A business continuity and risk management plan usually involves three considerations:
There are many international standards and policies to guide the development of disaster recovery and business continuity plans.
Business continuity management is the process of planning for and dealing with potential threats and hazards to an organization’s ability to maintain business continuity. This management requires:
- Evaluating the importance of different business functions in a business impact analysis
- Creating a plan for maintaining at least the most critical elements despite a disturbance
Business continuity and disaster recovery are inextricably linked. Having a business continuity and crisis management plan in place can save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars, and can even mean the difference between surviving the business repercussions from a natural disaster or folding. With a good business continuity strategy, and effectively managed disaster recovery tools, businesses have a much better chance of getting up and running faster after a disaster. Ideally, well-prepared businesses should be in a place to continue operations as if nothing had happened. Businesses without a disaster recovery strategy and business continuity plan in place are much more vulnerable to being wiped out by a natural disaster or cyber attack.
There are a wide variety of business continuity tools to choose from, which all perform slightly different functions:
- Back-up: Backing up data is one of the simplest ways to ensure business continuity. Storing data off site or on a remote drive provides some business continuity, but other tools are needed to back up the IT infrastructure and keep it functioning in the event of a disaster.
- Backup as a Service: Backup as a Service is similar to backing up data at a remote location, but a third-party provider performs the back-up. Again, only the data is backed up, not the IT infrastructure.
- Point-in-time and Instant Recovery Copies: Point-in-time copies or snapshots copy the entire database at regular intervals. Similar to point-in-time copies, instant recovery copies take snapshots of entire virtual machines. If these copies are stored off-site or on a virtual machine that is unaffected by the disaster, data can be restored from these backups.
- Cold Site: Businesses can set up a basic infrastructure in a second facility known as a cold site, where employees can work after a natural disaster or fire. A cold site can help business operations to continue, but it must be combined with other methods of disaster recovery that protect or enable recovery of important data.
- Hot Site: A hot site is a second business location that functions like a cold site and also maintains an up-to-date copy of data at all times. Hot sites dramatically reduce downtime, but they are more expensive than cold sites and more time-consuming to set up.
- Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS): A disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) provider moves an organization’s computer processing to their own cloud infrastructure in the event of a disaster. Businesses pay for this service through a subscription or a pay-per-use model. One advantage of DRaaS is that businesses can continue to operate seamlessly from the vendor’s location, even if their own servers are down. Choosing a local DRaaS provider will ensure higher latency, but if the vendor’s servers are too close to the disaster location, their own servers may be affected by the same disaster.
- Physical Tools: Physical disaster recovery tools can mitigate the effects of certain types of disasters, except cyber attacks. Physical elements that can support business continuity include fire suppression tools to help data and computer equipment survive a fire, and a back-up power source that supports businesses through short-term power outages.
- Virtualization: Backing up an IT infrastructure is one of the trickiest parts of a business continuity strategy. Virtualization is one of the few ways to back up a working replica of an organization’s entire computing environment. Businesses can also automate some disaster recovery processes on off-site virtual machines that are unaffected by physical disasters, bringing everything back online faster. Frequent transfer of data and workloads is essential for virtualization to be an effective disaster recovery tool. IT teams must have a clear and current picture of how many virtual machines are operating within an organization at any given time.
Whichever tools an organization chooses to support their business continuity, it is important to test the tools and disaster recovery procedures before disaster strikes.
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