Most Businesses Unprepared for Blackout

Friday Aug 22nd 2003 by SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff
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When it comes to dealing with calamities, small businesses are a lot like big businesses in that few of them were prepared to keep their IT services up and running when last week's blackout hit eight states in the U.S. and parts of Canada.

A new study from Info-Tech Research indicates that 60 percent of the businesses surveyed did not have formal plans and procedures in place to help IT departments deal with last week's blackout. Although more than 76 percent of companies surveyed said that the blackout had an impact on their organization, most of them admitted that they were not sufficiently prepared.

"I think that this blackout demonstrated that most IT departments, especially those in mid-sized companies, are still flying by the seat of their pants," said Info-Tech Research Analyst Jason Livingstone. "Disaster recovery planning is simply not on their list of priorities."

Not surprisingly, 82 percent of the companies surveyed are concerned that another blackout will hit their area within the next 12 months. Livingstone said businesses are taking steps to ensure that they will be better prepared for the next time.

"On a positive note, I think that this blackout was a wake-up call for a lot of companies," Livingstone said. "Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said that they were either going to create a new disaster recovery plan, or update an existing plan."

Other than reviewing and updating their plans, the study also showed that companies are looking into other precautions. Twenty percent said that they were planning on purchasing a backup generator, and another 18 percent said that they were going to review their agreements with their service providers.

Failure to Communicate
One other piece of insight from the survey that will send shivers down the spines of business managers everywhere — while 76 percent of IT managers said that the blackout had an impact on their company, 67 percent of them said that it had no financial impact whatsoever. This suggests that IT and business still have not bridged the gap. Thirteen percent said that the blackout cost their organization more than $5 million dollars.

Chris Neal, Sage research director, said most of the businesses that took at least some steps toward implementing a disaster recovery scheme did so after Sept. 11, 2001.

"Some businesses started data mirroring with dual locations or set up SANs [storage area networks], or both," Neal said. "Few businesses turned to third-party services. For smaller businesses outsourcing mission-critical applications just wasn't in their budgets."

As a result, Neal insists that at least some companies were a little better prepared for disaster this time around, even if the majority of business owners were not.

"A lot of businesses did their homework and changed their plans," Neal said. "Larger businesses got in the habit of testing their preparedness every three months or so."

Be Ready for the Worst
So what's a small business to do to prepare for a potential calamity?

Neal says small businesses should prioritize their computing assets and determine their small business's tolerance level for downtime.

"Small businesses can prepare different levels of backup and recovery procedures just like larger businesses. "Figure out if you need to mirror a site in real-time as part of mission-critical backup or if serving your site from geographically dispersed dual locations will suffice," Neal said. "Determine what applications can be backed up on tape and implement the plan. Having back-up files at off-site locations is the norm, but instantly available hot sites are reserved for mission-critical applications only."

Monetary figures on business losses from the "Blackout of 2003" are still being tallied. No one is certain just how much money was lost when the power was cut. But one thing is certain — next time, there's going to be a few more businesses better prepared to handle the disaster and the recovery.

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