Q: During the time you’ve been working at Sterling Ideas, multiple hurricanes have hit Florida, and just last summer, Hurricane Elsa crossed through the South and Central Florida area. What kind of technical concerns do hurricanes present to small and medium businesses?
Sterling: “The technical concerns that accompany hurricanes are usually pretty similar to concerns that everyone has: flooding, loss of power, lightning. Those are the most concerning because these events can lead to physical technical damage, which is the biggest issue when dealing with hurricanes. Flooding—obviously, technology and water don’t mix well. So aside from needing to keep your staff and patients/customers/students/clients safe, you need to worry about whether or not your technology is still working, dry, in good condition. Lightning—same thing. Technology and large doses of electricity don’t get along well either. So, the biggest physical concern would be making sure your hardware is actually available to you, in working order. And anytime you have a loss of hardware, you have the potential for a loss of data as well. Any data stored on lost hardware becomes lost, which means your backups become very important. Your knowledge of your system matters. You could lose a router or a piece of equipment that doesn’t necessarily hold data, but it is integral in connecting your network so that your computers can actually access your data. And if you don’t have proper documentation of how to rebuild that lost connection, you can be stuck in a place where your data is safe and you have machines to access the data, but you can’t build the bridge and make that connection.”
Q: Our Hurricane Preparedness Checklist has 3 main categories: knowledge of IT infrastructure, disaster planning, and disaster recovery testing. With that in mind, what portions of disaster recovery planning are doable by non-IT personnel, and what parts of disaster recovery planning would be best handled by an experienced MSP?
Sterling: “The portions that can be done by a non-technical person really should happen in conjuncture with an experienced technician. Those are things like ‘How long can my business afford to be down without any access to my computer systems before I start losing money?’ or a better way to ask it: ‘How much money am I losing for each hour that my systems are down?’ Does your staff have the ability to function remotely, and if so, how long can that be sustained? Even if your technical infrastructure is still intact and your hardware is functioning but the weather is so severe that your employees cannot travel to your place of business, can they work remotely? Do you have the hardware to be able to operate remotely? Is that hardware still safe and functioning? All of these questions are things you need to answer as an owner or management. But really, you need to work with a technician who has an intimate knowledge of your systems. Because if you want your employees to be able to work remotely, you need to ensure that their work-from-home machines are properly secured and have proper access to your systems. You need to ensure that your IT infrastructure is properly mapped and architected so that if a piece of equipment were to fail, it could be quickly remedied.
The rest of disaster preparedness really requires a professional technician—not just a professional, but a professional that has a prior intricate knowledge of your systems. You should be testing your backups and running disaster recovery tests, so that in the case of data loss, you can quickly recover. That is a big deal in the tech world. Even if you lose a piece of equipment that doesn’t necessarily hold data but is the glue that keeps everything together, and you don’t know how to put it back together, there will also be downtime. And that downtime costs you money. In disaster recovery situations, time is money. Your best shot at getting running again and losing minimal time and money is to partner with an expert MSP that has an intricate knowledge of your systems and a plan for disaster recovery.”
Q: When we talk about disaster preparedness, what do you think is the most commonly overlooked aspect by small and medium businesses? Why? How do we remedy that for our clients?
Sterling: “I would say most people understand the importance of having backups, and rightly so, because they are extremely important. But I think what most people overlook is testing those backups and making sure they know how to access those backups. Your backups are of no use to you if you can’t access your stored data, and they are completely useless if they aren’t actually working (which could easily be the case if they aren’t being tested regularly). That’s why we run daily diagnostics on our backups, test them weekly where possible, and run regular tests on our backups to ensure everything is in working order.
Just as overlooked is infrastructure documentation, which I know is tedious and boring, but trust me when I say that you’ll absolutely need it in the case of hardware damage. Like I said earlier, if a piece of your system architecture is physically damaged, you’ll want to remedy that as soon as possible. Without a physical map of your infrastructure, that could be incredibly time-consuming and tedious. That’s why we map out every system for each of our clients. We’re willing to do the tedious, detailed work that it takes because we know it’ll pay dividends for them later.”
Sterling: “I have a couple last remarks about hurricane season. First, our greatest concern for our communities is each and every person’s safety and wellbeing. We hope and pray that you, your families, your loved ones, your employees, and your companies remain safe and protected during the upcoming storm season. Second, if you do not have a disaster recovery plan that satisfies our entire checklist, it’s not something that can wait. Complete it now. If you do not work with a trusted MSP that partners with you in disaster recovery planning, call us. We want to know that our neighboring businesses are safe this hurricane season. If you wait to prepare until a storm is coming, it’s too late. We want to learn your systems, get to know your company, and give you the best possible plan not only for hurricane season, but for the growth of your entire business. Stay safe and plan well.”