Data Centers optimize

10 things you should do to ensure storm readiness

Hurricane, flood, or blizzard: Anticipating the impact and having a plan in place will help your recovery efforts.

Businesses are not always lucky enough to know when a disruption or disaster will strike the organization. So when you are fortunate enough to get some warning, there are a few things you don't want to overlook. I've compiled advice from experienced IT staff who have been through it all -- floods, hurricanes, ice storms -- and their best advice is included below.

1: Test, test, test

When was the last time you tested your generator? Batteries? Disaster recovery restore process? If you are like many IT pros, those things were tested upon installation and largely forgotten. Time is not always a data center's friend, so don't rely on old tests for setting your mind at ease.

2: Set user expectations

Data center outages aren't the only thing to worry about. Your employees' ability to be productive rests in their ability to access critical business systems. When a storm strikes, mobile devices are often the only mechanism your employees have for communicating with the business. Make sure they remember to take home and fully charge all portable devices before the storm hits.

3: Turn it off

If you don't need a device, turn it off and unplug it. A power surge caused by lightening can wreak havoc on your electronic devices even when they are powered down.

4: Waterproof it

While you can't plastic wrap your entire data center -- and trust me we've had fun picturing what it would look like -- you can use a waterproof container for spare files you have on CD, USB drives, or even documents printed out at your desk.

5: Prioritize restoration

In the event of a tragic loss to your data center, what systems will you restore first? Have a plan endorsed by your executive committee in advance. It's no fun guessing which urgent request you should answer first during the middle of a crisis.

6: Know your staffing plan

Does your building maintenance staff have a way of getting hold of you? Managing vendor alerts, proactively updating your users, and responding to urgent requests can be overwhelming in a disaster. Be sure you have a game plan and assign responsibilities in advance.

7: Prepare for resilient communications

Text messages and email are often your only communication vehicle in a disaster. Make sure you have access to distribution lists and that your email continuity solution is up and running.

8: Know your insurance coverage

What acts of nature are and aren't covered? Build a list of contact numbers and information and distribute it to the appropriate employees to ensure that everything can be quickly handled in the case of an emergency.

9: Evaluate the size of the plan

Most plans cover situations where a disaster occurs and rebuilding can begin in a reasonable time. What happens in an unreasonable disaster? Disaster recovery plans need to account for hurricanes, floods, and blizzards, which can knock out power and facilities for days and sometimes weeks.

10: Be realistic about system replacement delays

How quickly can replacement equipment be obtained in a regional disaster, when many companies around you may be similarly affected? Incorporate estimated replacement timing into a plan to account for these types of delays.

Mounil Patel is director of sales engineering at Mimecast.

Additional resources

Been through it?

If your organization has been struck by a weather disaster, were you able to bounce back quickly? What other steps would you add to this list?

2 comments
StoneSatellite
StoneSatellite

At the time I was a systems admin for a small biz in the Houston area. We made plans well ahead of time to procure a 40,000kw generator which I knew that when tied in, would service our building and then some (best case being an in place generator, but expensive). We packed up our equipment which included seven ob/gyn ultrasound units. All equipment was waterproofed and stored offsite a few days before the storm when we knew it was tracking straight for our area, in a building that was high and dry that we knew would survive the storm along with three sets of data at various locations in addition to existing backups. The day after the storm blew through our building suffered no serious damage and we were up and running early that afternoon shortly after they rolled in the 40k and tied in. As far as internet service, I remember we had a dedicated redundant 3 meg pipe, but I can't remember how long it was down or if it was at all. I was lucky in the run up to the storm as far as securing the equipment because our plan called for a halt to activity in a timely manner. That's not always going to be the case as some may want to work right up to the last minute, leaving out that the employee has to make provisions for the safety of their own homes and family, so last minute planning can get hectic. Don't wait until the last minute and don't forget to remind your employer that you have to make personal preparations as well. Employers who do wait until the last minute will most likely see employees choose the safety and security of their own homes and families over that of their place of employment and should it come to it, the safety of their job. I know I would. While we had a basic disaster plan in place, being a growing small biz our environment was constantly changing and so in turn our plan, with some of those changes occurring at the last minute. Even with last minute changes everything went so smooth I think the biggest pain in the rear for me was having to refuel the diesel generator. My advice is that if you have no plan in place, make one. If it's not documented then do so, you can even begin using the excellent checklist above. At the very least make sure it's verbal and discussed often so everyone is on the same page and knows their role. Our plan was not only documented, but discussed and updated at every meeting with input from all encouraged. TechRepublic has some good disaster plan templates that you can use or get some good ideas from. HippieKarl's advice should be heeded as well. As soon as the storm passed and I knew my personal property was secure, the plan called for a certain set of persons to make sure the owner was on site to secure the building, and if for some reason that wasn't possible, a relative. Even if your site receives no damage, that doesn't mean a criminal won't take a good long look. In the aftermath of a disaster, they know that local resources are stressed and that some areas may make for easy pickings. How you choose to protect your site is up to you, just keep in mind that just because a criminal knows you're there doesn't mean they are going to walk away, and they are not there for tea and crumpets. While I realize not all situations are the same as mine relates to our small biz and a storm that we had time to prepare for, Ike was pretty nasty. One of the worst things about a moderate storm to even a typical tropical storm is you never know what kind of flooding it will produce or how many tornadoes it will spawn that can quickly reduce your building to a clean slab of concrete. Sudden and catastrophic disasters such as an earthquake, fire, or powerful storm can and do happen so up to the minute planning and preparation should be a priority in any size organization.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

In the wake of some of the more dramatic and severe disasters alluded to above (Earthquakes, typhoons), basic physical premesis security is suddenly a real issue, and probably easy to overlook in IT 'disaster preparedness'. Business equipment of all kinds can be looted, whether 'water and dust-proofed' or not. Good checklist; more relevant than ever.