Business Continuity?

Business Continuity is a big deal in today’s world. What does it mean, why is it important and how can a business leverage the ideas and practices to better itself?

Business Continuity as a concept encompasses the total time your business systems can be unavailable, in combination with how much data loss is acceptable to achieve the time goal. As always, there’s a balance between the two and a cost involved, less time to recover and less data loss is always going to be a bit more expensive than a longer possible downtime and more acceptable data loss.

Recovery Time Objective is the time part of the equation. As an industry standard we call this RTO. RTO is an answer to the question, “How much time can the system be offline?” As with any business there are multiple systems, taking orders doesn’t always use the same system as invoicing vendors, so each system can have a different RTO. Part of the RTO calculation should be restoration of bare metal systems, assuming catastrophic failure and each other scenario which seems logical to the IT organization. But make no mistake, this is a decision that needs to be made by the business executives in conjunction with the functional area. For example, if invoicing vendors is down the people that do that work are idle for the time the system is down, and there is a net affect on the business revenue. Typically only the “C” level executives can drive those decisions and make what they think is a reasonable number. Some systems can only be down for an hour, while others can be down for a week and have minimal business impact. Keep in mind this is all portions of the system; User Interface, Application Servers and Databases. Each must come in as a whole under the RTO goal.

Recovery Point Objective (RPO) is the amount of acceptable data loss. The answer to this question comes with some important thoughts. How many orders can the business afford to lose, or how many invoices can be recreated without affecting the business? Factors involved with RPO are frequency of backup operations, possibly hot standby database systems, mirrors of database systems or clustered solutions; each has a cost associated and some overhead involved and is managed differently. What’s important is the solution meets the business need AND is able to meet the RTO goals. Of course, as a database centered blog I can say that zero loss would be preferred everywhere, but this isn’t always possible given network latency, storage costs and license costs for redundant systems.

The beginnings of a Business Continuity plan start with identifying the systems used across the enterprise. At that point, the senior leadership can begin conversations with each logical business unit and decide on the systems overall impact to the bottom line, after which RTO can begin to come into view. RPO becomes a function of RTO and the costs associated become factors in the overall decision.

Business Continuity is critical to the growth of any business and helps to gain the confidence of the customers using the service, internal and external. A good business continuity plan is something that is rehearsed regularly within an IT organization. Regular rehearsal of the processes involved helps to iron out any missing or buggy items in the plan, which makes the IT folks look like stars when the world comes crashing down. And who doesn’t like looking like a star?

Until next time,.. Data Chef out,..

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