2017 was one of the worst years for tropical storms on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that there would be a 60 percent chance that this year would be a more active storm season than normal, and the severity of hurricanes was certainly greater. This was demonstrated by powerhouse hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Violent hurricanes pose more of a threat to Connecticut small businesses than they have in the past. If you think back to 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the Fairfield County coastline particularly hard. Residents and businesses had to cope with downed trees, loss of power, flooding, and other problems. It took weeks to get things back to normal. Of course, Connecticut small businesses are used to dealing with hurricanes and winter storms. The blizzard of 1978, for example, paralyzed the state for days. Earlier this year, Winter Storm Stella, a Category 3 Nor’easter, dropped enough snow on Connecticut to close I-91.
Every time a storm strikes Connecticut, your business can be affected. Power outages and impassable roads could interrupt operations for hours or even days. Winter storms are just part of doing business in Connecticut, and every Connecticut small business needs to have a plan to deal with storm outages.
Have a Business Continuity Plan
In the event of a business interruption, you need to have a business continuity plan in place.
Many people use the terms “disaster recovery” and “business continuity” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Where disaster recovery is designed to get you back up and operational following a catastrophe such as a fire or flood, business continuity is designed to help maintain operations in the event of a disruption. Where disaster recovery is designed to restore failed systems and data, business continuity keeps your systems running so you don’t lose hardware, software, or data.
In the event of a winter storm or hurricane, you are more likely to lose power and internet access than your actual servers and systems. However, with adequate preparation, you can keep your systems operational.
Emergency backup power can help keep the lights on. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can help you keep systems up in the short term, but UPS systems use batteries and are not designed to handle long-term outages. You might consider having backup generators in place to deal with long-term power outages. If you do use backup generators, make sure there is a process in place to keep them fueled and ready, and train personnel in how to start the generators and switch over power. Of course, using a generator to power a data center or a building for any length of time is considerably more expensive than running off the grid, so you might determine whether it makes sense to keep the equipment running or simply use backup power to safely power down network systems and send everyone home.
In addition to loss of power, loss of connectivity is a common problem. Most small businesses depend on a single DSL or cable modem for internet connectivity, and that connection can easily go out with the power. Depending on how important internet access is to your business, you might consider a failover strategy such as a wireless network or cellular link. Wireless connections often function when wired connections won’t.
One of the easiest ways to protect your network infrastructure is to take it off-site. Hosting business-critical applications and data in the cloud eliminates many of the problems associated with business continuity and disaster recovery.
Cloud computing uses virtualization, which operates independently of the hardware, separating the software and the hardware and using abstraction to emulate the underlying hardware via a hypervisor. The net result is that operating systems, applications, data storage, and so forth can be hosted anywhere for ready access when you need it.
Cloud computing is an ideal strategy for disaster recovery. Virtualization makes it possible to quickly back up data and applications to a remote location, i.e., the cloud. Using virtualization, you get faster transfer of data, so for disaster recovery that means a shortened time to restore operations.
For business continuity, cloud computing eliminates the need for redundant systems. Rather than installing and managing backup power and computing systems, you can find everything you need in the cloud. If you lose power or connectivity due to a storm or hurricane, you don’t lose vital data. In fact, you don’t even have to try to restore systems to be back in business; all you need to do is move to a location that has stable power and cloud access.
As an added bonus, many Connecticut small businesses have found that in addition to disaster preparedness, the cloud can deliver substantial savings. The cloud reduces the need for on-site servers and computing systems, and adding new applications and more data storage is easy. Cloud computing has the elasticity to expand and adapt to changing business requirements without adding infrastructure.
To help you prepare for the next hurricane, you should consider getting expert advice to develop a business continuity strategy. A managed service provider such as NSI can assess your current infrastructure, identify points of failure that could affect your business in the event of a storm, and recommend changes to your infrastructure for emergency preparedness. In many cases, those changes could be simple, such as adding a cloud backup strategy.
You know there is another major storm coming sometime in the future. Don’t wait. Protect your Connecticut small business by investigating safeguards now.