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Preparing for the unpredictable - the importance of network disaster planning

07 Dec 17

Unpredictability is the spice of life – keeping us on our toes throughout the highs and lows of our existence.

For businesses, unpredictability is not quite so serendipitous and in many cases, can have a cataclysmic impact on the business.

As a result, organisations are wising up to the need to mitigate risks across core business functions and processes, should disaster occur.

One such area critical to business continuity is the network. In today’s digital age, the network is the foundation on which data, applications, and people are connected.

As such, it is essential that organisations have a network disaster recovery plan – that is a set of procedures that outline how best to respond to any interruption of network services, regardless of whether it’s a natural disaster or an internal incident.

Typically, a network disaster recovery plan will provide step-by-step guidelines for restoring network services and operations following an incident, emergency, or crisis.

The best approach to disaster recovery focuses primarily on planning and prevention – for example, by identifying areas where the business can be threatened and supporting activities that reduce risk.

However, there are many circumstances that are difficult to anticipate (e.g. earthquakes and terror attacks); in this instance, an IT disaster recovery plan must:

  • Detect the outages or other disaster effects as quickly as possible
  • Notify any affected party so that they can act
  • Isolate the affected systems so that damage cannot spread
  • Repair the critical affected systems so that operations can be resumed

These points are collectively called risk management or risk mitigation activities. When executed well, disaster recovery procedures save large sums of money.

The financial impact to corporations of even a few hours of network downtime or lost web connectivity runs easily into big money.

While creating your recovery plans, here’s what organisations need to consider:

1. Which scenarios can cause a downtime within the network

Possible threats to a network include: attacks (internal and external, including attacks from hackers and viruses); blackouts; physical damage (everything from sabotage, weather, and high voltage, to accidents, fires, and water damage); misconfigurations; and failed updates.

To be best prepared, it is vital that organisations consider every possible threat and scenario.

2. The services of most importance to the business

Across an organisation, services will undoubtedly have different value to business processes and overall success.

To find out which action is more important than others, it’s necessary to understand and identify the services with the most significance.

For a true understanding of the impact of downtime, organisations must ask themselves key questions like:

  • Who will be affected by a downtime of a certain service?
  • Which dependencies does this service have?
  • What is the impact for the business?
  • How long is an acceptable downtime?

3. The cost of mitigation

There is a direct correlation between investment and high availability.

Having very little and short downtimes can be expensive, but is it more expensive than not being able to offer services to employees and clients?

Whilst working on disaster recovery plans, organisations must tally up the cost implications of downtime and find technologies that will support their activities with optimum investment.

One formula that might help with this calculation is  - (costs < (loss in revenue X probability of occurrence))

4. Identify the emergency contacts in the event of disaster

Hope for the best – but prepare for the worst.

In the worst-case scenario, organisations must have a clear understanding of who will be informed internally and who needs to be informed as the situation escalates.

In addition, external contacts need to be identified within relevant authorities, vendors, partners, and even customers – ensuring transparent and open lines of communication during a disaster.

The mantra of every viable disaster recovery plan is: “Keep your network safe. But be prepared if something goes terribly wrong.”

Whilst they may wish it wasn’t - unpredictability is the reality for businesses today.

And, although they cannot predict or protect themselves from every disaster, with the right tools organisations can minimise the damage of the unexpected and keep themselves running. 

Article by George Wilson, Director of Operations, APAC, at Paessler AG - PRTG Network Monitor

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