Oct
16

Tips for Delivering IT Services During a Natural Disaster

Tips for Delivering IT Services During a Natural Disaster

October 16
By

Some meteorologists referred to Hurricane Harvey as a 500-year storm. Harvey tore along the Texas Coastal Bend before unleashing its fury on the Houston area. The 130-mph winds made a mess, but the massive flooding that followed caused the worst damage the area has ever seen.

While Houston began the long and arduous recovery process, another “monster storm” named Irma was barreling down on the Florida Gulf Coast. The damage these two storms caused could reach $100 billion or more.

image of Hurricane Maria - IT services during natural disaster post

Damage costs for Hurricane Maria could be as high as for hurricanes Harvey and Irma combined.

The cleanup process will go on for years, but the residents’ resiliency will eventually bring a semblance of normalcy to the area. Unfortunately, many small businesses will not survive. Former Joint Task Force Katrina Commander Russel Honore recently went on the Fox Business Network and provided this sobering statistic:

“You know the old numbers, 40% of small businesses don’t survive these events because the grid doesn’t come up, they don’t have the workers and the people that they used to work for are not open.”

For those of you who provide managed IT services, your ability to get these businesses running again may make the difference between them surviving or closing their doors forever. Although it is too late to do much for customers caught in the path of Harvey or Irma, there are some steps you can take today that will help with future catastrophes. Let us look at a few of the most important ones.

Create a Disaster Recovery Plan

This may seem obvious, but many SMBs do not have a Disaster Recovery (DR) plan. Some are too busy keeping the lights on while others believe they are immune from nature’s wrath because they are far enough inland. But before you go further down the list, start creating a DR plan for your clients that do not have one.

Your first attempt may not cover every contingency. That is fine. Create a plan and revise it over time, but get something down in writing that you can follow when all hell breaks loose. Having a plan will help you create a calm environment for your clients and your team.

A lot of resources are available to help you create a plan. Here are a few you may find helpful:

A few years ago, a small company in downtown Seattle was right in the path of the WTO protesters. The CEO figured the company could survive a day or two of disruption.

But the small company quickly realized it had bigger issues when protesters blocked access to the office building, putting several client projects in jeopardy. Another week would pass before employees felt safe returning to the office, but it could have been a lot worse had its customers not been patient.

The company did not have a DR plan in place when the demonstrations started. Only the sales consultants got any work done that week because they had laptops. When IT created a DR plan, it included moving everyone to a laptop and connecting them with a robust VPN solution.

Focus on Data Protection

Once you have a plan in place, focus on data protection. This means you will need to work with your clients to make sure their offsite backups are successfully running. StorageCraft has a number of services you can tap into to help in this area. This includes monitoring services and the ability to boot up a VM from the cloud in a pinch. Much of your plan will include specific procedures IT will take when a disaster is imminent such as shutting down specific servers. Identifying the servers hosting high-value data is critical when you need to prioritize your backups.

Do not overlook the physical safety of your hardware. Check to make sure all your servers are in a rack or elevated, including any cables and Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) devices. Flooding causes power outages which lead to server crashes. Avoid these at all costs because they lead to failure of drives or RAID arrays and data loss.

Consider Colocation

If you are managing for a client server that requires 24/7 uptime even during a catastrophe, you should consider colocation. Of course, this assumes you have enough warning time to make plans to physically take the server to a new location. But you may have clients in the travel or financial markets that cannot function if a specific server goes down. Colocation is most helpful when you cannot separate the data from the application or if the application is tightly integrated with the hardware.

Finding a trusted colocation partner will take some research and time, but it could keep your company running during a natural disaster or other catastrophe. A good place to start is your local ISP who maintains its own data center. ISPs are also potentially a good choice for colocation because they are likely to have access to large UPS or generators.

There are several factors to take into consideration when placing a server in another environment. You may need to change security permissions or open ports for your application to run smoothly, so make sure you have both the ISP’s IT staff and your network administrator available during these discussions.

VPN to the Rescue

Having a robust VPN solution is among the most important services you can provide for your clients. It is also among the most complicated and misunderstood technologies. The best time to resolve VPN issues is before the catastrophe. That means you need employees to test their connections from home.

It is common that a natural disaster will make it impossible for employees to travel into town or reach their office. But in many cases, they are able to keep working with a reliable VPN connection from home.

You may already have a VPN solution in place. Or you might have one that you’re not happy with. When asking other professionals about the best VPN solution, you will receive at least as many opinions as the number of people you ask. The number and variety of VPN products on the market today is overwhelming. MSPs can provide a lot of value in this process. That said, companies such as Cisco, Juniper, and SonicWall make some of the highest-rated and most popular enterprise-grade VPN products on the market today, so you can start there and be confident that you will find a solution that is reliable and usable.

My VPN tip is to go with a product that gives you at least a 30-day trial. Ask for 60 or 90 days to be safe. The best VPN is of no value unless it works within your environment. You will find both software-only solutions along with several new integrated solutions that cost a bit more but are easier to deploy and configure.

Make sure to test the VPN client as well. Some products are more picky when using third-party clients while others restrict support to a single client.

Conclusion

To say the least, it has been rough for coastal areas of the southern United States. The storms that hit Florida and Texas resulted in millions of impacted people and thousands of affected businesses.

Some of you may have clients that were located in the path of the recent storms. Don’t be surprised if you begin to feel like a counselor and then later a cheerleader as you assist your clients in the challenging task of dealing with the storm’s damage. Some of the people you’re supporting may be starting from scratch.

When the storms weaken or head back out to sea, a lot of business owners will try to put the pieces of their lives back together. That is when they will need your expertise the most.