December 1, 2017

Building Software to Withstand Disaster

Written by
Barry Dyke

Natural disasters — hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and more — are becoming more frequent, and more powerful. Recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma are estimated to have caused $200 billion in damages, and Sandy — which hit the northern US in 2012 as a tropical storm — shut down Manhattan for days.

When news that such an event is on the way, preparation takes place. We board up windows, stockpile food and water, and overall take all possible steps to ensure the safety and well-being of ourselves and our families.

Many families and individuals have a plan of action in place to handle these events, but most businesses do not engage in this planning. A study from Nationwide found that 68 percent of SMBs did not have a documented disaster recovery plan, while the average commercial catastrophic claim has increased by 26 percent.

The cost of these storms to businesses may not be as visible as damaged buildings and flooded streets, but it’s still a very real cost. Of Hurricane Sandy’s damage, approximately $20 billion of the economic impact was from lost productivity from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia businesses.

This leads to the question: outside of boarding up the windows and lifting the electronics off the floor; what can business owners do to prepare for a disaster? Part of the solution starts with software. You must ensure the systems you rely on to run your business are designed to withstand and get back up and running.

Paper Won’t Cut It

Before computers were commonplace, most offices relied on stacks of filing cabinets and paperwork to execute their operations. A surprising amount of companies still rely on paper as a major part of their process.

If a flood takes out your office and you’re only using paper methods to run your business customer records, invoices, transaction histories, etc. will be gone. The process of recovery turns into a mountain.

Server-based software, installed on a local machine in the office, was the standard for much of the 2000s. It was a common solution for businesses, particularly SMBs. In most cases, the business will backup the server on a scheduled basis — daily, monthly, bi-weekly, etc. So, if a disaster were to occur, they can revert to a backup drive and resume operations as normal.

But this process relies on a human starting the backup, after remembering to check on the backup drive. And if a disaster occurs, you also have to ensure that drive is protected. If you leave it in the office during a flood, well, you’re up a river and just lost your paddle. There’s a lot of potential here for the backup to get lost.

Even with the backup in place, you will have to set up a new server in an office that may not have electricity back. All of these factors add days or weeks of downtime and makes it that much harder to recover. You may not be as out of luck as with paper, but you’re still looking at an uphill climb.

And this doesn’t factor in that, even in completely normal circumstances, server data storage has a higher failure rate then cloud storage.

ALSO READ: IaaS vs. PaaS: Which Cloud Model is Right for Your Business?

Cloud is Critical

The number one requirement for building a business disaster plan should be to have a cloud solution. While many owners are skeptical of cloud’s data security, it provides physical security that a local server does not. Not to mention cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services provide a high level of data security through firewalls, encryption, and more.  

In case your thought here is, “what about the datacenter? Won’t that get hit by the disaster too?” Well, Amazon Web Services’ main datacenter for the United States is in a military bunker-like building in Northern Virginia. It’s designed to protect against any disaster or attack. If Northern Virginia’s center goes down, there are at least four more North American datacenters ready to take over.

With a cloud-based solution, there’s no need to worry about backups or a server. Your data is accessible from any device, anywhere. This enables you to get your business up and running quickly. Leading to our next point …

Working Remotely, and Working Offline

One of the biggest issues in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the New York region were the impacts to mass transit. Nearly 1.63 million commuters enter Manhattan for work on an average weekday. For weeks and months after the storm hit, many people could not reach their office or faced severe community delays.

Many businesses have adopted systems that allow their network to work remotely. But while we often look at this as a convenience, it’s also a critical part of disaster preparation. If a storm leaves your office without power and internet for an extended period, would you be able to operate?

This is yet another advantage to cloud-based systems. They allow your team to operate from anywhere. That way, once you take care of your people, you can take care of work too.

Planning Ahead

As with preparing your home and family for a natural disaster, you should prepare your business in the same manner. Having a plan in place makes all the difference in avoiding downtime and ensuring your business can get up and running quickly after a catastrophic event. Things to consider include:

  • Files and Software: Make sure data and software is accessible remotely and configured to work offline.

  • Employee Priorities: Ensure everyone knows their role and priorities after disaster hits. Identify key people of contact who can coordinate and execute on a plan. Identify multiple parties. That way, if one employee is unreachable or dealing with the consequences of the storm, someone else can step in.

  • Customer Priorities: Have a plan in place to communicate with your customers before and after the storm.

Every company, from sprawling international franchises to small service businesses, should have a plan and tools in place that allow them to operate through a disaster. The most basic tools needed to work in the wake of these events, such as cloud storage and backup systems, are available at a reasonable cost and are simple enough to implement.

They say there’s a rainbow after every storm. For your business, the right strategy ensures that your team gets to the rainbow after the storm sooner, instead of mucking their boots in the floodwater.

Barry Dyke is the marketing specialist for ServiceBridge, a Chicago-based software company offering customized franchise management solutions for service-based companies throughout the United States and the world.