How to Keep Your Business Alive in the Face of a Natural Disaster

These days, every business knows the threat of data breaches, with most, if not all, investing in proactive protection and reactive recovery measures to mitigate risks against data loss. But what about natural disasters? Hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, fires, landslides – according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 was the most expensive year on record for natural disasters in the US and 2018 could easily exceed that number. The total cost in damages from sixteen events in 2017 was over $300 billion, crushing the previous high of $214 billion in 2005.

While the key focus in the aftermath of natural disasters is their impact on health, economy and the environment – which it should be – it should also prompt a refocused attention on disaster recovery among business leaders and IT managers. While the broader scale of disaster recovery planning includes facilities, power, cooling, communications and people, data backup for recovery remains key to business continuity. To ensure your business data is safe and recoverable in the face of a natural disaster, it’s important to invest in the right strategy, protection architecture and data storage solution for your business. Here’s some actionable advice that organizations of all sizes can take to better protect themselves in the face of a natural disaster.

Stay afloat with a business continuity plan

This all-important first step lists all the processes that an organization needs to follow in the face of a major disruptive event, whether it be a fire, flood, cyberattack, earthquake or human error. When disaster strikes, it’s imperative to have a sensible, proactive plan in place to get the company back on its feet and running as soon as possible. And, be sure to keep it updated as your environment changes taking into account your data change rates.

Keep your legal requirements in mind

Corporate policies and government regulations like GDPR and HIPAA may limit both the kinds of DR equipment you use and in what location you may put it. Moving data from one state to another or one country to another may open up a panoply of legal exposures. The DR site should be configured with the same levels of security and encryption as the primary site.

Archive data across all systems

With so many storage and backup solutions available today, many businesses can be inconsistent when it comes to protecting data. This is not unexpected – data that is backed up or archived can be stored across different types of systems and databases, particularly as the business grows and more storage is needed. The risk with this is that data that has not been protected or archived on a central, secure repository could be lost forever if a natural disaster strikes, which can have serious implications for the longevity of a business.

Many people think of “Archive” as something done when data is no longer of much use. A more modern archive approach is making an archive copy of files immediately upon creation and assign to the files a hardware-enforced retention policy that is consistent with the business goals. In this way, your critical business data is “born protected” and can be referenced one file at a time or in bulk quantities whenever needed.

Archiving data is also important for legal purposes. Many organizations are probably guilty of accidentally disposing of documents that legally, they should be retaining. It’s important that an organization’s archive system not only safeguards business data, but also enables it to meet regulatory demands while ensuring data does not corrupt or worse yet, get deleted before its time. That’s certainly a risk with a natural disaster.

When looking to invest in a stable, reliable storage archive solution, key criteria to consider include:

• Ability to access archived data quickly by shortcuts (stubs) when it’s no longer on primary storage.
• Replicated systems with each having an independent data protection mechanism
• Retention and disposition rules set easily in centralized management console
• Highly reliable, durable systems for extreme environments
• Redundant components for no single point of failure
• Ability to expand to hundreds or thousands of terabytes (TB) but within as little rack space as possible
• Performance to keep up with multiple streams of data input from a variety of instruments
• Easy export of one or many archived files to any UNC path – no vendor lock-in!
• Data mover agent that ensures a copy of a file happens upon creation, with the file turned into a shortcut after a configurable period of inactivity.

Data that is properly archived also enables employees to retrieve information independently, without the need to rely on external expertise or tie up IT resources.

Backup for recovery

Unlike data that is archived, data that is stored in a backup comprises copies of all the current and operational files that a business is actively accessing and using. The process of backing up, especially to disk, is generally highly automated once it’s been set up across applications, platforms and virtual environments.

One common but risky practice is to rely on remote backups for disaster recovery. Many use this approach until they do their first full-scale disaster recovery drill, or heaven forbid, face their first actual disaster. Backups are an important tool, but you have to consider the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) in a real disaster scenario where there’s the potential recover of petabytes of information and maybe even thousands of VMs that need to be brought online at the same time.

An advantage of some Archive systems is they can optionally restore just the data shortcuts in the event of primary storage failure, which is extremely fast, and which allows the users to get on with their work quickly. Files can be re-hydrated in the background if desired or can be allowed to re-populate naturally if and when they are used.

Never assume it won’t happen to your business

It’s very natural to assume that just because something bad hasn’t happened before, it won’t in the future. But at a time when natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity, businesses of all sizes must imagine the dangers of being taken offline and be prepared – it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

Proactively archiving and backing up business data in accordance with a sensible, realistic business continuity plan could save you and your business from unrecoverable data loss in the face of a natural disaster.

Gary Watson, CTO of StorCentric and Nexsan Founder