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The Cloud: The Most Disruptive Approach to DR/BC

Up to 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a disaster: how the cloud can help prevent this

Floods, fires, tornados, earthquakes, pandemics, riots, and hurricanes are just a small sample of the potential disasters that threaten businesses almost daily. Throughout my career, I have been responsible for preparing, managing, and rebuilding major communications infrastructure and the businesses they support before, during, and after disasters. Sometimes this was due to devastating natural disasters but most were the more common disasters that visit us every day like burst pipes, public transportation strikes and the extended loss of utilities to one or more locations.

Naturally, businesses are all building good Disaster Recovery and Business Continuance (DR/BC) plans for that inevitable bad day - or are they? According to the Small Business Alliance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), between 25 and 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a major disaster. With all the cloud-based technology available, this statistic is astonishing and entirely avoidable.

The Cloud: The Most Disruptive Approach to DR/BC
The cloud brings a more disruptive approach to DR/BC than any other technology on the market today. Previous solutions to DR/BC were add-on products that cost more to run the infrastructure of the business with limited day-to-day benefits. Whether it was "standby" data services, extra private networking or elaborate "ready for use" dark business centers - they all had one thing in common: all of them were expenses that cost the business whether they were in use or not. Cloud services completely change the paradigm of the unused DR plan as businesses can make use of cloud services every day. Furthermore, cloud providers offer an infrastructure and ecosystem at a scale point that makes services affordable to all business.

However, before you embark on a cloud services infusion to build out your DR/BC plan, your business should evaluate the benefits of embracing  concepts like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Over the Top (OTT) access to apps (and the compliance and security controls to support this), and mobility (smartphones, tablets, etc.). Make sure your support staff or vendors know your vision for application access and supporting cloud applications. I highly recommend using and implementing a cloud-based Single Sign On manager (SSO) to help with user access and to reduce seat costs for unused apps as part of your license and asset management strategy. Most businesses are well on their way to implementing these strategies so let's focus on leveraging these policies to improve the DR/BC plans.

Keys to Building a Cloud-based DR/BC Strategy
In order to best harness the cloud to build and improve your company's DR/BC strategy, all companies must consider the following:

  • Business Communications: In order for a business to survive, recover or flourish during a disaster, there must be a system to communicate with employees, customers, partners, vendors, etc. The system cannot be on-premise-based or you run the risk of it not working in an outage and should not rely on single connection points (e.g.,: only accessible through a Multiprotocol Label Switching [MPLS] network).

Hosting your communications in the cloud allows for businesses to continue working and communicating outside the office when a disaster situation arises, enabling companies to minimize lost revenue. It also enables employees to use any of their mobile devices, which is especially important when the phone lines for legacy phone systems go down.

Make sure you use a system that allows dynamic user adds and removes from a remote location and a smartphone or tablet because you want to be able to adapt your corporate phone system and dialing rules to suit the resources that are able to work.

Also, in cases where the disasters are truly severe, you can leverage the benefits of the government and wireless carrier efforts to provide nearly instant mobile service recovery through systems like Cellular on Wheels (COWs).

Along with the benefits of anywhere, anytime access for DR/BC, cloud-based business communications solutions are significantly less expensive than on-premise based phone systems and networks.

  • Email: Hosting your email in the cloud is also vital to get your business up and running as soon as possible. If a pure hosted solution is too expensive for your needs, pick a cloud server provider and host your own email in a pair of locations. If you have a savvy development shop, build an elastic disaster side to your corporate email and only pay for storage and minimal processing when the emergency side is not needed, and pay for the burst when you do need it.
  • Data: Most businesses find that their data falls into the following three buckets: Files that are needed immediately and frequently; data that is needed for and in the long term; and junk. A good daily best practice is to continually store your critical documents in a cloud-based file system like Box or Dropbox. This is also a good DR policy and makes it easier for employees to work on files from any device at any time. Let the rest of the non-essential files live on a cheap file cluster in the IT room. Just make sure you do a quarterly audit to ensure that the right files are in the right locations so if a disaster does happen, you have as much information backed up and protected as possible.
  • Critical Applications: The last items to think about when building out your DR/BC plan are the critical applications that keep the business operating, especially the ones that keep the money flowing and customers connected. The most important part in application planning is identifying the apps required to keep the business moving while the disaster or impairments are being fixed and repaired. It's important to leave out the apps that are not critical to your business. For example, unless you are a creative design company, a design studio application does not need to move to the cloud. CRM, financials, banking, billing systems and payroll are all essential applications that you need to consider and nearly all have multiple mature cloud-based providers in the marketplace. You may even find that your current provider of technology in this space already has offerings that can meet your new needs with limited or inexpensive migration costs.

Keeping More Businesses Open After Disaster Strikes
With the cloud technology solutions available on the market today, all businesses can easily develop a robust DR/BC strategy that will keep the business moving forward in times of need. The cloud also works to make employees more productive, deliver more cost-effective and efficient applications and produce an all-around better work environment.

Furthermore, according to FEMA, the number one reason that DR/BC plans fail to save businesses is that they were not tested thoroughly enough and they failed when they were most needed. With a cloud-centric design, you would be "testing" the applications every day, as they would be the systems your employees use on a daily basis. After an interruption, your employees can get right back to work, and you can spend your time focusing on the people instead of the technology and plans.

Businesses can't control when or if a disaster hits, but by making cloud-based DR/BC plans, they can control the impact that both large and small disruptions have on employees and the bottom line.

More Stories By Curtis Peterson

Curtis Peterson is VP of Operations at RingCentral, a company that pioneered the consumerization of the business phone system by moving it to the cloud and mobile devices. Since 2002, he has developed, launched and operated cloud business communications solutions for hundreds of thousands of companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 firms.

In 2010, Curtis joined RingCentral from Windstream, where he had also served as VP of Operations. Before this, he was Director IS Systems at NuVox Communications, which was acquired by Windstream in 2006. He held several technology roles within companies such as AOL and Michelin, earlier in his career.

Curtis received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Auborn University.

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