Site crash fallout: Good enough for government, not for business

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Every now and then, I have to simply shake my head. It seems as often as I, and other professionals, preach the business value of disaster recovery and business continuity...that's as often as someone comes along who clearly wasn't listening.

The latest example happened in our backyard last week. A snowstorm in New England knocked the North Carolina Employment Security Commission's Web site offline for two days; my guess is that thousands of people who usually access the site to track their unemployment compensation benefits or to file a claim were unable to do so until the site was back up and running.

When I heard about this story, my first reaction was, "close enough for government work." After all, the site's back up and running, and those people who couldn't access the site were inconvenienced for a day or two, maybe even a weekend...probably nothing more.

But businesses that may experience a similar weather-related outages face a far more immediate, and potentially devastating, impact. Unlike the government, chances are those businesses that are knocked offline aren't the only game in town. (Of course, in our 24/7 Internet economy, that phrase is more accurately expressed as "the only game in the world.") And if they're down, the chances are very good that their customers, who've grown accustomed to getting what they want when they want it, will actively, and immediately, search out another provider. This has been known to give marketing and sales executives a severe case of heartburn.

The lessons of consistent uptime are clear. The Commission's web provider should have had a business continuity plan in place that enabled them to instantly transfer operations to a remote location away from the area affected from the storm. And the Commission itself should have had a service level agreement (SLA) in place mandating this, so that it could maintain a maximum amount of uptime.

As a service provider, we make sure that we have multiple data centers ready to handle both expected and unexpected situations. We test our readiness, and make sure our clients know about it as well. And we do it regularly; having a disaster plan in place and not testing it may be worse than having no plan at all.

So, if you're the client, challenge your provider. Challenge them to make sure that what they've done meets your needs. Challenge them to explain what they're thinking about to meet the needs that you may not have considered. And challenge them to ensure that when disaster strikes (and yes, it will) they are fully prepared to meet your immediate needs.

Because if you don't, you may well end up like the North Carolina Employment Security Commission. And unlike the Commission, you'll have customers who discover they can go elsewhere, leaving you with former customers. Which is never good for the bottom line.