Over the next several columns, I’ll discuss how outsourcing
can enhance your IT staff by filling gaps and offering services that are otherwise
unavailable. Before we begin, it is important to point out that this discussion
will remain neutral in terms of the practice of “off-shoring” (using
consulting services from other countries for fiscal and other reasons). Instead,
these columns will focus on supplementing your existing IT staff for disaster recovery
(DR) purposes, and how best to complete that process.

You need to address the question of whether you need to
outsource any IT resources in order to adequately ensure that your DR plan will
work. For organizations of all sizes, you may find that different levels of outsourcing
are available to fit your needs.

Do you have the knowledge base for DR operations?

Begin your analysis by determining the level of expertise of
your existing staff. You may already have a wealth of DR knowledge in house, in
which case you will need little consulting help.

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You can ascertain knowledge levels informally by simply asking
your staff what tasks they can handle; you can also use standardized testing as
a more formal method of assessing their abilities. Certification exams, such as
MSCE for Microsoft certification, provide one yardstick, and there are similar
tests for hardware platforms, other operating systems, and even for security
knowledge.

However, keep in mind that just because someone doesn’t have a
particular certification, it may not mean they do not have the proper
knowledge. Real-world experience can count for a tremendous amount when it
comes to finding out if outsourcing is right for you.

Do you have the proper facilities and hardware in house?

The second step in your analysis is to evaluate the physical
aspects of DR planning, and decide if you have proper facilities and all the
necessary hardware in-house. There are a great many hardware components
required for DR, and you may not have the budget to obtain them all. You may
not even have the proper space to house them in, or the ability to acquire them.
In these circumstances, you may wish to outsource functions of DR that are
either too awkward or too expensive to be obtained via a capital investment.
One example of this is establishing a DR data center—a remarkably expensive investment
if you are building it or buying it, but a better possibility if you outsource with
an organization that specializes in this type of building and allows you to lease
the necessary space. Also keep in mind that if you need off-site tape storage or
off-site backup hardware, you need to contract out for those services, unless
your company owns multiple locations that are geographically dispersed to
provide adequate failover.

Do you plan for the worst-case scenario?

Of course, the most glaring reason for outsourcing DR is also
the one none of us ever hopes to deal with. Even if a company is well-prepared,
a major disaster can cause deaths, wipe out the primary site, or prohibit staff
from reaching either the primary or DR site. Even with remote-control
technology, there may be cases in which the DR plan cannot be put into effect
due to the lack of personnel. Outsourcing DR operations with a larger company
can allow your plan to be enacted, even if the people within your organization
cannot perform DR tasks for any reason. The risk associated with this scenario
must be assessed by management and IT staff. Depending on the critical nature
of your organization, or the data it owns, completely outsourcing your DR
operations is one option that you may need to consider.

So, when it comes to outsourcing both people and hardware, you
first want to ensure that you don’t already have the resources you need in
house. Controlling your own resources is always going to be a more manageable
process than having to go through contract negotiations, partner changes, and
other major issues. However, if you cannot find or afford what you need within
the organization, outsourcing allows you to create a solid DR plan that won’t
leave your company unprotected in the event of a disaster. Next time, I will
discuss the particular DR functions that are the most likely candidates for
outsourcing.