A common platitude among IT professionals and computer users asserts that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who back up their computers and those who will.
While most of us know to back up our information, our continually changing world moves more quickly by the day. It’s easy to forget that disasters happen and infrastructure fails. It’s more important than ever to create and maintain a robust business continuity plan in case an emergency occurs.
With recent advances in technology and storage, there are now more choices than ever, making now an ideal time to create or review your business continuity plan. Here are some of the key tools, innovations and technology keeping businesses operational when things stop working. X2nSat provides robust services for business continuity to cover businesses no matter the scale or need.
- Innovations in data storage
Backing up and storing data for a business often requires a multifaceted and coordinated effort, with consideration given to security, access and regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH.
Common solutions for keeping data safe in a crisis include remote data centers, local on-premises server backups, off-site data storage and cloud-based solutions. Each solution has merits, ideal use cases and situations when another solution is more appropriate. These solutions can be tailored specifically for each individual business’s needs.
If a company operates at a scale that makes an independent data center appropriate, placing a second data nearby will allow for the desired redundancy. However, to be effective as part of a business continuity plan, it must be far enough away from the first data center that a regional disaster won’t take down both centers. A good example is Microsoft, whose headquarters is in Redmond, Wash., with data centers in Quincy, Wash. – about 150 miles away with a range of mountains separating the two. The likelihood of both locations becoming inoperable is very low. An alternative is to rent space in a larger data center.
An important innovation in data storage is virtualization, which allows for data redundancy and rapid redeployment. A virtual machine will restore from backup much more quickly than an entire hardware system can. In the case of a regional outage, data can be restored from an unaffected area, provided that a business established that redundancy before the outage. Storing your system in two locations will allow businesses to load their data if their local data center is compromised.
Additionally, virtual machines make relocating out of an affected area much simpler. Since the hardware is not stored on-site, IT can deploy the virtual machines in other locations more easily. Hardware also creates more points of failure. If key system elements exist on-premises, they must be moved along with all other business-critical materials, making redeployment that much more difficult.
Of course, cloud storage is nearly ubiquitous and serves a key role in business continuity. A cloud deployment can circumvent ransomware attacks in addition to storing business data. It offers built-in redundancies, and some deployments can also be assigned constraints such as time limits or self-deletion should data be compromised.
Often, a mix of these solutions provides the best result, tailored to a specific business’s unique needs.
- Keeping lines of communication open
Keeping employees connected and communicating during an outage can be challenging. In the event of a natural disaster, mobile networks and traditional internet may not function. Consider satellite communication for these circumstances.
One may also envision less extreme situations when local networks cease to function or small outages occur. Investing in a virtual email server can be the difference between leaving employees in the dark and maintaining effective communication between all key players. This is particularly useful for distributed teams that rely on an email server to communicate.
If a team needs to leave the office or work site, investing in greater mobility architecture can make all the difference. Laptops, remote hotspots and satellite internet boxes can make relocating operations easier with significant cost savings.
New advancements in social media also have business applications. If a business is public-facing, consumers expect companies and brands to communicate with them via social media. Additionally, businesses using social media internally can check in with one another or use information gleaned from social media to ensure their employees’ safety.
- Considering all options
Another common platitude is “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Businesses cannot know the vulnerabilities in their systems without repetitive and thorough testing. Simple errors, such as neglecting to ensure there are enough laptop chargers when relocating or failing to conduct proper research to ensure supply chains remain efficient, can be costly. A backup power supply or redundant data storage meant the difference between customers seeing no issues in a system and the entire Bank of Scotland malfunctioning for a full business day. It is staggering to think about the money that can be lost by overlooking one critical step.
Businesses should go beyond simple tabletop exercises and fully test their plans to make sure all bases are covered. A full recovery test, including a vendor and with significant documentation, is more likely to uncover vulnerabilities than a tabletop exercise.
One of the most difficult pieces to predict and control is the supply chain. If one considers a supply chain with multiple vendors and stakeholders being upset by a disaster, it will be important to ensure all the information for shipping, purchasing, tracking and accounting can be accessed remotely. Making sure vendors are informed of any continuity plans will allow for rapid action when needed.
To make supply chain management simple during difficult situations, companies should include GPS tracking and inventory management capabilities in their continuity plan. Struggling to act when supply chains are compromised will significantly impact any business, regardless of size or business vertical. A retail business suffers additional complexity when point of sale systems go down.
These challenges can be daunting for businesses of any size. An end-to-end plan including satellite POS systems, mobile POS systems and CRM and logistics data storage in a data center takes the uncertainty out of supply chain planning for retail businesses and companies operating at enterprise scale. X2nSat offers various satellite solutions that keep the trains running when the lights go out.
- Remote SCADA and IoT control
Businesses that operate at large scale with multiple machines running continually and concurrently often use a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system to manage and communicate with these machines from one central location through an HMI (human-machine interface). These systems are often networked together with multiple layers of abstraction and complexity. Managing them is difficult even in the best of conditions and they are essential for the businesses that use them. Therefore, maintaining continual uptime in these systems is crucial.
This problem will only compound as IoT devices continue to enter the market. At present, there is no universal operating system for SCADA systems and IoT devices, meaning every use case will be unique and communicating between different systems will be difficult. This situation is analogous to that of early smartphones, which all had unique charging ports and operating systems.
Forward-thinking companies using these systems should consider backing them up with a satellite. A satellite backup is the simplest and most reliable way to guarantee continuous uptime for complex systems. Current forecasts show that mobile networks will be heavily taxed by the growing influx of connected cars, traffic lights, transmitters and smart home devices operating on them. There will be 1.5 billion devices connecting to our mobile networks by 2022. While infrastructure will scale over time, this level of use and speed of growth are unprecedented.
Therefore, businesses that rely on continuous uptime using these services should establish a backup for these devices. The likelihood of continuity issues increases with the rapid proliferation of devices and infrastructure being implemented quickly to meet increased demand.
- Putting it all together
No matter the size or scope, any business can benefit from strong business continuity planning. This may take the form of storing data redundantly on-premises and in the cloud, with a physical backup in a data center. Larger businesses may build their own data centers. These systems work in tandem with greater mobility technology. Ensuring computers can access systems and data through virtualization simplifies the process of re-establishing systems and decreases the amount of hardware that must be physically moved.
In addition to keeping data backed up, secure and easy to access, businesses should add communication technology to their continuity strategy. Public-facing businesses will benefit from a robust and modern social media approach, and internal employees can remain connected with virtual email servers, satellite internet backups and satellite phones for voice communication.
To ensure success, businesses should test their plans to determine which technologies to use and what elements are missing.
Some systems are very large and complex, such as supply chains and SCADA systems. In these use cases, GPS technology can be useful to track supply chain movement, and remote, satellite-powered point of sale systems can keep a business operating when systems are down. In the case of mission-critical SCADA and IoT systems, the best option is a full satellite-based backup system.
A strong business continuity plan and infrastructure, aided by the right technology, will be a key differentiator for any business. There is no profitable downtime; one of the best things for a business to do, then, is to plan ahead and make downtime a thing of the past. The experts at X2nSat proudly offer business continuity solutions and other services to make continuous uptime a reality worldwide.