By Mike Talon
When a disaster hits, whatever its severity, the majority of your people will most likely not be able to access data systems. VPN systems and other remote-access solutions (such as Citrix) can help alleviate the problem, but the cost of laptops and remote connections can become prohibitive if you attempt to connect everyone.
Determining which employees most need these remote connections is a decision you should make well before a disaster occurs. Of course, some employees will absolutely need network connections regardless of what happens to the primary data systems.
The CEO and many other chief officers must be able to communicate with each other and the world at large. Lead technology professionals must also remain online in order to coordinate the restoration of data services. The good news is that most of these people already use laptops, making it easier for them to reach the backup data systems from an alternate location if necessary.
Beyond the obvious key players, you'll need to make some tough decisions about who has remote access and who doesn't. Some people or groups should definitely make the list.
First, seriously consider setting up key HR staff for emergency connections. These people can help you keep the rest of your employees in the loop and ready to go to alternate office space.
In addition, you'll want to ensure that employees who are necessary to maintaining production obtain network connections during the interim periods. You'll also probably want to keep the sales force going strong—or as strong as they can.
Key personnel from facilities management also should make the list. They can assist the technology staff in restoration of the original production floor space or in the acquisition of new space.
Keeping these numbers to a minimum is important. However, that shouldn't prohibit you from making sure the right people are available to you in order to perform recovery operations.
Keep in mind that you're basically sending the rest of the staff on what will amount to a paid vacation, so salary and benefit costs for idle employees could skyrocket. Failure to plan on enough employees being able to immediately resume production can leave you with a very large tab for idle employees—with no production to bring in revenue.
Temporary office space from business continuity service providers (such as SunGuard) can assist in finding terminals and desks to house these people if you decide not to provide remote connectivity. This solution offers the added benefit that the provider can also host your servers and other systems until you get production facilities up and running.
The drawback is the recurring expense of such providers, but you can roll the cost into your overall disaster recovery budget if the provider can set you up with everything you need for your DR plan. Using such providers also requires that you know in advance the exact number of people who would go to the DR center, since you'll only have the number of desks you contract for ahead of time.
It's important to remember that you must make the decision of who receives alternate connectivity and who goes off for a very long weekend before a disaster hits. Failure to do so will force you to handle huge expenditures without having any cash flow coming back in—regardless of how fast you can get the rest of the business up and running.
Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.