Welcome to Business Continuity Awareness Week—our annual focus on business continuity within the context of contemporary issues. For us here in South Africa, it is well-timed as we begin coming to terms with a highly constrained power grid for the foreseeable future. Putting risk-mitigation strategies in place couldn’t be more important than it is now, as the odds of a severely disruptive power outage have just shortened rather dramatically.
We all now accept that regular load-shedding is part of the business landscape and has to be factored into business continuity plans. In extraordinary cases, a whole region could be without power for much longer than the normal few hours, and such an eventuality should also be factored into plans. However, we do believe that the chances of a national blackout are extremely remote.
Accordingly, our blogs this week will have power outages as a recurring theme, a kind of pressure test with which all business continuity planning has to be able to deal. In particular, extended power outages beyond the traditional two to four hours will affect businesses and their employees in multiple ways.
We will start the conversation with ICT because, let’s face it, most businesses today rely on it, be its own systems, the Internet, cloud-based systems or telecommunications more generally. ICT, wherever it is consumed, runs on electricity, so an unstable grid based power supply is a critical factor no matter how you look at it.
Let’s look first at the question of a company’s own systems, and what its IT disaster recovery plans look like.
The first red flag to be raised is the whole question of tape backups. We all know, or should know, that tape backups have a number of disadvantages. The whole process is highly manual, for one thing. It is usually performed at midnight when the system is quietest, and the tapes get sent off site (another whole set of risks). Most critical of all, tapes are rarely (if ever) tested, and a full disaster recovery test is hardly ever done because it takes so long to plan using this technology. When a disaster happens, restoring large amounts of data off untested tapes is a good excuse for going on Sabbatical.
Help is at hand. Virtualisation technology has now matured to such an extent that using tapes seems slightly perverse. The ability to clone virtualised production environments at the disaster recovery site while the production systems are online means that one doesn’t have to wait for a quiet period to do backups. In fact a company’s systems never have to go down at all.
Virtualisation can be thought of as the “tape killer”. It’s often said that this technology is too expensive, and that may be true when it comes to the big brands. However, open source virtualisation software provides an extremely cost-effective and enterprise-ready alternative, provided a reputable company exists to support it—which in most cases is actually true: open source really has come of age.
In other words, big budgets are really not needed to meet business requirements for resilience—particularly when it comes to power outages. While some larger enterprises may still prefer the “safety” of going with a big brand, two-thirds of the economy is made up of SMEs, for whom open source is a definite answer—in virtualisation and elsewhere.
Next time, some more points on tape backups and a look at the impact of a power outage on other parts of the business.