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Disaster Recovery, Are You Ready?

Thursday, September 10, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Industry experts estimate that the majority of local governments are not effectively backing up their data. Should a disaster occur, many local governments may find some of their data lost and their systems unavailable. In order to effectively manage data in the event of an emergency, every public agency should implement a comprehensive plan for Backup, Restore and Disaster Recovery (BRDR).

"The struggle for any governmental organization is convincing the management to invest in disaster recovery. In most instances this is based on the initial sticker shock over the cost of properly implementing BRDR,” said Clancy Priest, Retired CIO, City of Hayward. 

The best place to initiate BRDR planning is with an assessment of the organization’s data and current recovery plans. By evaluating what the business impact of a disaster or emergency will be, an appropriate plan can be crafted to manage the data that is critical to the function of the organization. An outside consultant can be engaged to perform this assessment or it can be done internally. The evaluation should start with the most critical data - public safety and public works - and then move through the organization in order of importance, taking into consideration lastly those data points that would be a simple annoyance to lose. Additionally, it’s important remember when crafting a BRDR plan that files and data are different from programs and systems – programs and systems can be reloaded, but files and data will need to be recovered.

Once a business impact analysis is done, the organization must determine how it will perform vital functions in an emergency. This includes an offsite storage plan, consideration of cloud-based hosting, staff chain of command planning and emergency operations management. 

When implementing an effective BRDR plan, the organization must decide if they will use Cloud-based or in-house network storage. Cloud storage offers definite advantages. Therefore, every city should be considering cloud-based solutions as a viable component of their BRDR plan.  When Software as a Service (SaaS) is implemented in an organization, vital records are stored in the cloud, so the environment at City Hall is irrelevant. Hosted systems definitely have an advantage in a disaster situation as well, as data can be easily access remotely with little more than a laptop with an Internet connection. 

According to Clancy Priest, approximately 90 to 95% of data can be stored in the cloud. After that, the 5% that are not hosted probably will not present a problem in an emergency (ex: online building permit application). Nowadays even email and word processing can be hosted in the cloud, so relocation in an emergency can occur without a loss of functionality. 

The main point in effective BRDR planning is business continuity. Even if the mission critical systems are stored in the cloud, user files are most likely stored locally, and therefore, should be backed up on a regular basis. All servers within an organization should be backed up frequently. There are many disaster recovery companies to assist with that, and as a result of competition in this space, cost has dropped dramatically. 

With the assistance of a disaster recovery company, local files should be regularly backed up to external drives and stored offsite. Backup tapes are no longer an effective method for offsite storage. They have proven unreliable and costly and therefore, any organization still using them should immediately identify alternatives. 

The bottom line is that BRDR will always be a daily part of the life of a municipal IT manager, but with advancements, BRDR can be more of an automatic process, ensuing the safety of data without a great amount of labor cost.  

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