A portable business strategy is a contingency plan for operating your business from an alternate location. This could be in response to a natural disaster that threatens or destroys your primary place of business, or a planned and scheduled temporary measure necessitated by remodeling or moving your place of business.
Depending on the size, structure and function of your business, picking up where you left off from a new location may be relatively simple or very complex. The level of difficulty doesn't necessarily rise steadily as the size of your company expands; in fact, it may be easier for a large enterprise that has multiple geographic sites, to shift the locale of its business and network operations than for a medium sized business that operates from one headquarters building.
In this article, we'll look at some scalable strategies you can use to develop a plan for making your business more portable.
A first step in any continuity plan is to protect the integrity of your data, since user-created data is the network asset that is most difficult (or impossible) to recreate. This involves daily backups (preferably with copies stored off-site) and/or redundant copies of data in remote locations.
It's easy for a large company with one more branch offices to do this. Whether you store the working copies of user data on a centralized file server or have local file servers for each office, you can replicate them to all locations so that there are multiple copies at multiple sites. This makes it easy to recover after a disaster or to access data after a temporary or permanent relocation.
Small and medium sized companies can use online data storage services such as those offered by:
Another solution for small companies is to strike up an agreement with another company you trust, for each to host a server at its location to which the other can save data over the Internet.
If you have to move your network to a new location, the next concern is porting your critical servers. Servers that make up key components of your network infrastructure include:
- Domain controllers
- DNS servers
- Web servers
- Mail servers
One way to make these servers and their mission critical services more portable is to create each separate server as a virtual machine image that can run on VMWare Server or Microsoft's Virtual Server. These images can be installed on a new server and transported as one or two physical machines instead of a dozen or more.
VMWare announced in early February 2006 that they are now offering a free version of VMWare Server for both Windows and Linux, which support a number of guest operating systems, including Windows, Linux, NetWare and Solaris x86. Click here for more information.
One of the most difficult parts of your network infrastructure to move quickly and easily is your Internet connectivity. That's because your server infrastructure may be dependent on public IP addresses assigned by your ISP. However, you can work with your ISP and the provider of your physical connection, such as the phone company that provides your DSL line (for small businesses) or T-carrier line (for large companies).
If your internal network is behind a NAT, so that computers on the LAN use private IP addresses, reconfiguration will be much easier in the new location, even if your new connection is through a different ISP.
Of course, if you have a remote office with its own connection to the Internet, you have built-in connectivity redundancy. Users with their own Internet connections at home can VPN into your new location to access internal resources.
Remote access for client portability
The ultimate in network portability on the client side is remote access. Users can continue to access their email and network resources wherever they are with the proper remote access solutions. These include:
- Home computers with consumer Internet connections (DSL, cable, or even dialup).
- Laptops that can be used with hotel broadband services, public wi-fi hotspots, etc.
- Handheld computer phones (such as Windows Mobile based smart phones and Pocket PCs) with EV-DO, GPRS, HSDPA or other wireless Internet service offered by cell phone providers.
- Public Internet-connected computers (such as those in libraries or Internet cafes).
Remotely hosted servers
A good business portability strategy will make network resources available to users in various remote locations, with little or no downtime when you move your primary business location. This can be made easier by having your email and Web servers run by a hosting company instead of on-site. This also means you'll have fewer servers to port to your new headquarters location (or duplicate to a remote office).
For example, companies such as 123 Together provide Exchange hosting on shared or dedicated servers with pricing and capacity plans for companies of all sizes. Prices vary from $9.95/month per mailbox on a shared server up to $5,499/month for 500 users on a dedicated server. These services also offer extras (for an extra fee) such as Blackberry and Treo integration, server-based spam filtering and message archiving for HIPAA and SOX compliance.
Other companies, such as ix Webhosting specialize in hosting of Web servers, with packages ranging from $3.95/month for 10,000 MB of space and 2 domains to unlimited space and up to 10 domains for as low as $12.95/month (with a 24-month commitment).
Other servers can be hosted, as well. For example, aplus.net offers dedicated UNIX, Linux or Windows servers starting at $99 per month, with 99.99% guaranteed uptime. Support for ASP, Cold Fusion, and MS SQL are also available. Companies such as Catalog.com specialize in hosting of e-commerce sites.
Whether your business is small or large, chances are at some point you'll have to temporarily or permanently move your base of operations to a new physical location. If you've planned ahead, you'll be able to do so while causing minimal disruption to your network users (and thus minimize losses in productivity during and after the move). Plan now for a good business portability strategy and will scale as your company grows.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.