My scariest thoughts in this ghoulish season -- a lack of business continuity

To keep business up and running -- even when disaster strikes -- requires careful planning in advance. Smart enterprises will have a full contingency plan in place that automatically goes into effect when business as usual is no longer possible.

It was a dark and stormy night, and the lights were all out in the datacenter. Beneath the hum of the air conditioners, all seemed well. Then ... disaster struck. It came in a variety of forms, some natural, others manmade.

The list is long and still growing: tsunami, hurricane, tornado, ice storm, earthquake, heat wave, massive power failure, blizzard, sweeping forest fire, flood, flu, ebola, anthrax, subway bombing, dirty bomb, travel restriction, aircraft grounded, energy crisis, sun spots, asteroid, volcano, rising sea levels, war, terrorism, and mass paralyzing fear.

What struck was not as important as that it did strike. What was a tragic matter of life and death, pain and suffering, for many also sent economic shock waves of a less severe but nonetheless serious kind. Many businesses lost their ability to function. Essential services and non-essential services alike were held hostage to the general disruption.

And even though the fearful things were not entirely unanticipated, and many precautionary steps were taken, there remained a huge vulnerability. The IT systems themselves were distributed, made redundant, protected, backed up on unassailable media, provided with stand-by power. The networks were okay, at least most of them away from the worst destruction.

No, despite all the havoc, the systems were fine. It was the people and their PCs -- that was the really scary part. They had become separated, perhaps for a long, long time. Studies show that 70 percent of enterprises have taken precautionary steps to protect their data. Yet only 13 percent have taken adequate steps to manage workforce disruptions. What if the people can't get to work, can't get access to their applications, data, services, and business processes? Ouch.

To keep business up and running -- even when disaster strikes -- requires careful planning in advance, or business continuity planning. Smart enterprises will have a full contingency plan in place that automatically goes into effect when business as usual is no longer possible. These plans allow for a series of steps to automatically kick-off so that workers can remain where they are safest, able to care for themselves and their families, and also be able to do their jobs.

Remote and secure PC access is an essential ingredient to these contingency plans. For example, in one scenario, workers are assigned a kit to keep at home and also in their carts. The kit contains a physical key, a USB memory stick, that they can plug into any PC on a network. Once password (or biometrically) authenticated, the key uses its own software to build a virtualized desktop that becomes network authenticated to connect with their protected IT systems. They gain access to company communications, a help desk, needed resources, their usual systems. Companies can track, monitor and guide their employees virtually.

What's more, the virtualized PC becomes the telephone, instant messaging node, perhaps connected via a cell phone or EVDO card. The employee's emergency kit contains the headset, software, secure VPN. The office telephones are redirected to where ever the employees are using VOIP or their local numbers. The office is closed, but the employees are working, with live access to all their applications,  data, and communications.

Such business continuity allows for emergency response teams to operate from anywhere -- from an aunt's house 200 miles from the hurricane, for example, or from their car (stuck in traffic as they flee, but safe). Perhaps they have not been moved at all but asked not to leave their homes. They can still work remotely for perhaps weeks or months.

So while there are many a scary scenario to consider this Halloween season. Some nifty technology and emergency response measures can keep the company afloat -- even if the home office is sunk.

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