You spent big bucks on a backup solution — tape, disk-based
or hybrid — so you figure you’re covered if disaster strikes. Your data is
safe. But is it really? And does it even matter, if your employees, partners,
and customers don’t have a way to easily access that data after a hardware
meltdown or a natural disaster? A good backup solution is an important part of
an effective business continuity plan, but it’s only one component.

As your company grows, it becomes more and more important to
have a comprehensive strategy in place that will allow you to continue
operations as normally as possible whether you lose a single hard disk, a
server, or an entire building housing your network infrastructure. That’s why
your business continuity plan needs to be multi-layered and able to expand in
scope as your company grows.

Components of a multi-layered business continuity plan

There are several important issues to address when mapping
out your business continuity plan, including:

  • Data
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Continuity
    of network connectivity
  • The
    human factor

Data backup

You can think of data backup as the core component of your
plan. After all, hardware can be replaced, operating systems and applications
can be reinstalled, and new network connections can be established —
eventually. On the other hand, data collected or created by your users may be
unique and difficult or impossible to recreate exactly.

A good data backup solution depends on the amount of data
generated and how often it changes. Daily backups may suffice for small
companies, whereas larger companies that produce a high volume of data may need
to back up data several times per day, or on a continuous basis. Tape or disk,
or a combination of the two, can be used for backup.

Another option is a backup service, such as Acme Data, LLC, that allows you to
back up your data to a remote location across the Internet. Off-site backup is
a crucial part of any backup strategy that has business continuity in mind,
since backup tapes or disks stored on-site can be destroyed along with the
original data if a flood, fire, tornado, or other natural disaster occurs. On
the other hand, data stored in a remote location may be difficult to access and
restore if you lose your Internet connection. Thus, we recommend a combination
of on-site and off-site backup.

An alternative for off-site backup storage is to physically
move a copy of each day’s backup to another location. In a small company, this
may mean the owner or IT manager takes the backup disk home with him/her every
night. In a larger company or one with high security concerns, the backup tapes
may be transported via armored car to a vault.

Hardware redundancy

If a server goes down, you can lose money and productivity
if you have to wait for a new machine or component to be purchased and
configured. As the company (and IT budget) grows, you should plan to purchase
critical servers in pairs and configure them identically at initial setup. You
can then either keep the “spare” in reserve in case of failure, or
implement server clustering with failover so that
when one of the pair goes down, the other automatically takes over for it
without virtually no downtime.

Software continuity

Server clustering allows you to create a “mirrored” server
that has the same software as the primary server, and either mirrors the data
or shares a connection to the data storage array.

If you run Windows 2000 Advanced or Datacenter
Server or Windows Server 2003 Enterprise or Datacenter
edition, you can use Windows’ built-in clustering services. However, in Windows
Clustering, the cluster members (nodes) must be located near one another
because they use SCSI connections to storage resources. For best protection,
members of a server cluster can be located in different physical locations.
Solutions from vendors such as Veritas and NSI allow
mirroring of cluster servers to remote sites.

Your business continuity plan should also take into account
availability of client software for accessing resources. The larger your
company, the more workstations will be involved. One way to ensure that clients
will have the proper software to do their jobs, even if they have to work from
different machines in a different location, is to use an Application Service
Provider (ASP) or have users run applications on a terminal server rather than
installing the application software on individual client machines.

Network connectivity availability

Access to data and software may not be all that employees
need to get their work done. More and more, an Internet connection is necessary
to perform necessary tasks. And of course, if you run e-commerce sites your
sales will depend on the availability of an Internet connection.

You can ensure continued Internet connectivity by purchasing
two or more Internet connections. Software solutions such as Rainfinity’s RainConnect
and hardware solutions such as Xincom’s Twin WAN series can be used to provide
failover when one connection fails. As a bonus, many of these products also
aggregate the bandwidth of your multiple Internet connections, giving you a
bigger “pipe” when both connections are up and running. As the company grows,
you can add more and faster connections. For example, a small company may
aggregate two DSL lines or a DSL line and a cable connection. Larger companies
can often use the same consolidation/failover product to aggregate multiple T-1
or T-3 lines.

Firewalls, routers and other internal network components can
also be purchased with failover capabilities.

The human factor

Don’t forget the human factor in putting together your plan.
In case of a true disaster, some of your personnel may be temporarily or
permanently out of commission. If the network administrator is the only one who
knows the passwords that are necessary to get a critical server back up and
running, time (and business) can be lost. Responsible password management can
make emergency personnel transitions smoother.

Important passwords can be stored in a safe off site, to
which a trusted party (also off site) has access. Cross training of IT
personnel ensures that you don’t run into a situation, for example, in which
Joe is the only person who knows how to boot the Exchange server.

As the company grows, these practices should become more
formalized and administrative responsibilities should be shared and delegated
to avoid focusing all control in the hands of one person.