Thursday, June 14, 2012

SMB IT Continuity

You might be thinking that as a small or medium sized organization that business continuity isn't that important to you. In particular with your small IT department you may not realize just how important this sort of planning can be to your organization's well being. The truth of the matter is that planning for business continuity from an IT perspective isn't horribly complicated, but does require thought and careful consideration.

In making a plan there's only a couple basic categories you need to worry about. You need to consider your personnel, your physical infrastructure, and your data. Depending on your size a list made of these portions of your organization may fit on a single page, or it may take an entire book. In either case it is important to take an inventory of what you have. For example a company of 5-10 employees might have a list like this:

Fred, Systems Administrator
Joe, HR/Accounting/etc
Linda, Sales
April, Sales
Alvin, Sales Manager
George, Owner

IT Equipment:
1 Server (Virtualization host)
6 Desktop Computers (Model: xxxx)
1 Color Printer (Model: xxxx)
1 B&W Printer (Model: xxxx)

1 Email server VM
1 Domain controller VM
Local desktop data (Users)
1 Webserver VM
1 Financial Management VM (Terminal services)

 As you can see, even in a company that small there are a lot of things to worry about if something goes wrong. And if the size of that company were to increase over time, that list would only grow in size and complexity.

Once we have some semblance of and idea of what we have, we then have to figure out what our priorities are. By this I mean we need to decide what people and things are absolutely required for the business to run, and what after that assists in making it perform more efficiently. Again I suggest coming up with some sort of list but this time ordering by priority, or adding a priority designation. In the case of the company above it looks like as far as equipment goes the most important bit is the server. For the data they likely would need at minimum the Domain controller VM, Email VM and the Financial Management VM data in order to begin operating. A list describing would look like this:

Critical Needs:

IT Equipment:
Virtualization host
2 Desktop computers

Domain Controller VM
Email VM
Financial Management VM

After that you would list the other stuff in increasing categories of importance. What this allows your organization to do is prioritize its time in what it's working to bring back online in the event of a catastrophe. You avoid spending time on portions of your infrastructure that may be able to wait and thus could end up saving the organization a substantial sum of capital.

So knowing what's important, and what you have is all well and good but what are we going to do about preserving it? Emergencies are unpredictable (obviously) and you need a strategy in place that allows you to get back to an operating status in hours (not days). You need to have an offsite location to store a backup of your data, and perhaps a few pieces of hardware to get you by in a pinch. When I say offsite location that doesn't necessarily mean a sophisticated data center or even another office itself. If you are a small organization your cash flow might not allow for something that elaborate, and in that event you could even use a residence. It just has to be somewhere that  you outfit with a decent broadband connection, and reliable electricity.

Once you've picked and outfitted a proper offsite location you have to come up with a data backup plan. Using the backup solution of your choice you will need to maintain an offsite copy of anything deemed important. I suggest using a two tiered approach to going about this. First start by taking a local backup of everything at the file level, image level, and application level (Database, mail, etc) giving you one solid copy. After this you'll want to set up file level backups (and smaller application level) that occur across to your offsite. After you have started moving data off site regularly you will want to pair that with an image backup (and any larger application level backups) that is dumped to a local spot. This scenario gives you the fall back you need in the event of a disaster, but also gives you the easy access you need for smaller incidents.

As you may be aware by reading this blog in the past I do have a bit of a favorite when it comes to products that help out with business continuity and disaster recovery planning. The 3X Appliance is an excellent solution for this sort of thing and certainly deserves a look. They've posted an article here that talks a bit about its usefulness for business continuity.

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