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3 Things Hurricane Irene Can Teach Us about IT Disaster Recovery

by on August 30, 2011

Over the past several days, Hurricane Irene has wreaked havoc on the East Coast of the U.S. where our company is based, impacting millions of people with wind, rain and flooding. Millions remain without power or even any idea of when it will be restored. Homes have been damaged. People have been displaced and injured, and lives have been lost. Our thoughts are with those who are even now still feeling the impact of this destructive act of nature.

At the same time, given the nature of our business, our thoughts turn to the disaster recovery implications of a natural phenomenon like Hurricane Irene. Clearly, this most recent natural disaster is a wakeup call to those businesses that have not made IT disaster readiness a priority—including half of all small to medium-sized businesses, according to the Symantec 2011 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey.


Just what is it that makes disaster recovery planning such a challenge for many organizations? While the lessons learned will continue to shake out over the coming weeks and months, the East Coast’s experience with Hurricane Irene underscores the reasons why:

  1. The disaster proves the value of the recovery plan.
    There was no way to know until Irene hit whether all of the disaster planning conducted up and down the East Coast—from preparations at the Amazon Web Services data centerto full evacuations of whole counties. Skeptics questioned whether all of these steps were really necessary. Now, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, I don’t hear many people questioning the lengths that businesses and governments went to to prepare for this disaster.In the same way, IT disaster recovery planning seems to many organizations like overkill—until a disaster hits, that is. Especially with budgets stretched to the max and organizations struggling to keep their networks humming along in the here and how, some firms just haven’t invested in protecting themselves from hypothetical events. This mentality quickly changes the first time the organization suffers extensive downtime or data loss in the wake of a disaster. Suddenly, it’s easy to justify the budget for that “nice-to-have” disaster readiness plan.
  2. The threat is unknown, but the danger is real.
    As Irene bore down on the East Coast, no one really knew what to prepare for. A simple rainstorm, or a serious hurricane that would gather strength on its travels? Power outages? Flooding? Governments, businesses and citizens could only act on the best information they had and prepare as well as they could for the most likely scenarios.When it comes to IT disaster recovery planning, many organizations face a similar challenge. Sure, a disaster—natural or otherwise—could strike at any moment, but what would it look like? Why bother to plan when we don’t know what we’re planning for? Clearly, it’s impossible to plan for every scenario. But failing to plan for any scenario is just bad business.
  3. You can never be too prepared, but preparedness has its limits.
    Hurricane Irene proved the value of all of the disaster readiness preparations up and down the East Coast. But even extensive preparations couldn’t prevent Irene from having a significant impact.Any organization’s IT disaster recovery plan also has its limits. You can protect your data, but probably not all of your data. You can limit downtime, but probably not prevent it entirely. Every disaster recovery plan—not to mention budget—has a limit. The key is to understand what data is critical to protect and what the acceptable recovery timeframes are for your business, and build this understanding into your plan.

Has Hurricane Irene or another disaster changed your business’ disaster recovery plan for the better? How can IT demonstrate the value of disaster recovery planning before a disaster strikes?

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