In good faith

The Internet is a wonderful place to find cheap therapy. For some, it provides an opportunity to vent. For others, it offers a chance to achieve a level of satisfaction from drilling down and getting some useful facts that had previously gone unnoticed.

As an example, 10 days ago one site posted a message indicating that it had just finished a walk through IT purgatory - it had suffered a massive data outage, its vendor had been slow to respond to the crisis, and in the end, much of its data had been corrupted. It then pointed a very accusatory finger at the vendor. J'accuse!

Because this involved a very high-profile vendor the story was of course picked up and repeated all over the Web, and industry analysts from Albany to Albania were peppered with broadcast messages on the subject.

A check of the facts however, and certain inconsistencies in the tale of woe began to bubble to the surface.

A "minor" issue, it turns out, is that the company in question actually stored its data at a storage service provider (SSP) and had no direct dealings with the vendor it heaped the blame on. Indeed, it now seems that the company had no business relationship of any sort with the vendor.

As you perhaps recall, I am the first to advocate getting maximum value for your IT investment, but this idea of extracting value from people you don't even do business with raises this concept to a whole new level. I must think more about this later.

On a less frivolous note, it turns out that even though the SSP may well have taken all necessary precautions, a large disk array really had gone down and the client's data may well have been lost. And why wasn't the data recoverable? Because the client's IT operation apparently had no disaster recovery policy to cope with such a situation, and may not even have had a consistent policy towards doing backups.

There is a moral there. Even if you use the best SSP that deploys the best equipment and follows the best policies for operation, you have no one to blame but yourself if you don't take advantage of your SSP's back-up and recovery services - or at least come up with a useful alternative to them.

Now don't misunderstand me - I think faith is a wonderful thing. It is just that I also believe that faith alone is simply not enough to form the basis for a sound strategy for business continuity.

For the rest of us, planning may be a better alternative.

Certainly many sites will have their own special requirements, but there are some general rules we can apply that will work for just about all of us. And the most basic of these must be the assumption that even when technology fails, business must continue.

This is a good time to ask yourself whether your disaster recovery plan indicates how much time your data can be offline before the business begins to suffer. Can you recover within that time window? Have you even identified your company's most critical data?

Even under the best of circumstances, systems do go down. Make sure that when that happens your business doesn't go down as well.

We will talk about this subject several times over the next few weeks. It is probably a good idea that you and your colleagues do the same.

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