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9 steps to business continuity strategy: Remote access solutions, more

From remote access solutions to telecom contracts, our list will help you identify gaps in your business continuity strategy and prepare for outages.

June marks the start of the hurricane season , a good time for many CIOs to revisit their disaster recovery and business continuity strategy. talked with CDW Corp. technologist Vic Berger about how CIOs can get a grip on IT's readiness for executing an effective disaster recovery and business continuity plan. The

se plans, like insurance policies, start with defining risk. Here are nine questions to help you identify where you need to make investments in disaster recovery (DR) and remote access solutions so the company stays afloat if disaster strikes.

What percentage of your workforce could work remotely today?
CIOs and the business should decide whether it is worth the investment to enable more employees to work remotely by providing the necessary remote access solutions such as laptops, a softphone or a second phone line into the home. The IT analysis should factor in both the "sunk cost" of the equipment (the price of a laptop) and the "shared value" of that expense: increased productivity, DR capability to work remotely, "green" benefits related to lower power requirements of a laptop and work-life balance perks.

Will your remote access solutions and business continuity strategy support your disaster recovery plan in a crisis?
There are a few issues here. One is bandwidth: What's adequate for normal operations may fail if the number of users increases significantly and suddenly. Another factor is where the remote access technology lives. "If you have all of your VPN or dial-up access in site B and site B goes down, having all the data at site A is of no use to your users," Berger said.

Then there is the matter of prioritizing who gets access. Modern devices allow CIOs to create tiered levels, so IT can take bandwidth from lower tiers to ensure a tier-one employee gets in.

How well can your telephone and messaging systems support a redeployment plan?
Berger recommends including an "upgrade capability" in a communications contract for unified communications and IP telephony.

"If you are using a company with systems that support scaling up, you might be able to write into the contract that, for example, you bought series one of the equipment but want the ability upgrade to series two or three in the event of a disaster," he said.

Will your telecommunications bandwidth be sufficient if your business continuity strategy includes having everyone work remotely during a crisis?
A company with a single T1 line will be much less able to accommodate remote workers than one with an OC-3 data connection that can be can be apportioned out to multiple T1 lines.

"If your bandwidth cannot support large-scale remote work, your telecom manager will need to invest in backup capacity, which is a different kind of business relationship with your service provider," Berger said. "It may, in fact, require a different service provider."

How many telecommunication access points do you have into your IT network?
Some redundancy is essential in case you lose your primary access point.

If your bandwidth cannot support large-scale remote work, your telecom manager will need to invest in backup capacity.

Vic Berger, technologist, CDW Corp.

How well can you manage your data centers remotely?
A properly designed and executed data center can be 99% lights out, Berger said. However, few organizations make full use of remote management, often because of the culture or the pace of change. Rapidly changing organizations may feel they need to take a hands-on approach to their data centers. But as companies move toward virtualized environments, change is effected through software and thus can be handled remotely.

Do data systems have adequate backup power for an extended power outage? Can the power systems also be managed remotely?
In a storm or other natural disaster, companies can't count on utility-supplied power. So that means having a generator, and a contractor to refill it if the fuel runs out.

CIOs should also look at building up extended capability cost-effectively. For example, put in colocated storage to replicate data and lease the ability to fail over to virtualized machines should the company site go down.

Is all data backed up frequently, securely and accessibly?
More companies are moving away from tape-to-data replication on disk. Tape restorations have high failure rates, as in one case where tapes came back from Iraq for a government client. "All of the tapes were sand-contaminated, and they did not work," Berger said.

What remote access security tools do you use, and will they also scale sufficiently in a crisis?
How will you deploy expanded remote access security on short notice without creating a bottleneck and losing productivity? Eliminate any differences between security practices for on-site and remote access if at all possible. Practices that are unfamiliar to employees are unlikely to work well under pressure.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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