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How To Plan For Potential Technology Disasters

By Gary R. Wager, M.B.A., M.C.S.D.

What if a fire sweeps through your building and destroys everything in its path or a power outage wipes out your server? Most organizations don't have a plan for recovering from a disaster. So, step one is make a plan - sit down and actually write down the procedures that you must do before and after a disaster and assign them to staff members. Store a copy of your plan, with necessary phone numbers, off-site. Remember in the scenario above your office just burned down and there are no papers inside.

The first item on your list is disaster prevention. Make sure your computer equipment is surge protected. Electrical storm activity has been very high this year. Install battery backups such as APC’s BackUPS 1000 on critical equipment. Backups for desktops are now available for less than $50. At a minimum, use a surge protector from APC or Tripplite. Don’t buy department store “surge protectors”. These are nothing more than outlet extenders. Be sure modem connections are surge protected. Lightening strikes do as much damage through phone lines as electrical lines. Most surge protectors and battery backups come with modem protection. It is a good idea to surge protect network connections. A direct or close lightening strike can cause the surge to arc from electrical lines to close proximity network lines.

Install antivirus software, update the virus definition files weekly and perform regular scans. Set your antivirus software to scan all incoming email. The viruses circulating on the Internet can do serious damage to your network and your operation.

Install a firewall. For about $50 you can protect a small network with a router/firewall. This device protects your network from intruders and makes your network virtually invisible to hackers.

So you’ve done your best to prevent disaster but the unthinkable still may happen. Now start planning the recovery process.

The first item on your recovery plan should be backing up your servers (and any other computer that contains data) and store one or more backup tapes off-site. Simply going through the motion of backing up is not enough. You absolutely must periodically test your backups. Make sure that data is actually being backed up and you can retrieve real data from the tape. Don’t forget to periodically clean your tape drive with a cleaning tape made for your drive. Purchase fresh data tapes to keep on hand to replace old, worn-out tapes.

Make copies of your software program disks (including serial numbers) and store them off-site. While not as critical as protecting your data, it could mean the difference between being up and running again the same day versus many days later.

If you can afford it, purchase redundant hardware. RAID servers contain redundant hard drives, many of them being hot swappable. This means that if a hard drive fails in the server, you can replace the bad drive without shutting down the server. Your disaster recovery process just took five minutes instead of five days! Purchase a spare network switch. This is the device that ties your network together. If this device fails, your entire network is down. For as little as $50 (depending on the size of your network) and five minutes of your time, you can have your network operational again. Purchase spare hardware such as video cards, hard drives and network cards for your critical computers in case they fail. Technology changes fast and the PC you buy today may not have replacement parts in a year.

In the event of a serious disaster, you are probably going to need new computers. Some organizations keep a fully functioning backup data center at another site. Most of us cannot afford that. Make contact with a computer rental company or your computer vendor to be sure they have the hardware you need. Don't forget, you will need a tape drive compatible with your data tapes.

Once you have developed a plan, run a disaster recovery drill. That way, everyone knows what to do and who to call when what you thought only happens to others, happens to you.

This article only covered the technology portion of your disaster plan. There are many other factors to consider such as preservation of your paper documents, setting up new office space and possible loss of staff. Contact a reputable disaster recovery firm if you need help.