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Business Continuity 101

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Businesses rely on information technology to drive communication, collaboration, and productivity. But that dependence can quickly become a serious handicap in the event of a major system crash or natural disaster.

How long can your business last without access to mission-critical applications or data? How much money does your business stand to lose for every hour your workers sit idle, unable to deliver products or services to customers?

You don't want to learn the answers to those questions through bitter experience. Instead, you need to have a solid business continuity plan in place to ensure that your business can rebound and carry on as quickly as possible.

Consider the following fundamentals of business continuity:

1. Assess—You need to examine your business with an eye toward identifying the critical processes and systems. You can do without some systems or applications for a couple of hours or for a few days; but the absence of others will stop your business in its tracks. Figure out which components fall into which category so that you can prioritize your resources to focus on the assets that have the most critical impact.

2. Plan—With your impact analysis complete and your list of high-priority assets in hand, you can develop a framework for business continuity. Consider various scenarios, and assess the risks they represent to your business. Analyze the effects of each scenario, and create a plan that outlines how your business will mitigate the risks and continue or resume normal operations if the imagined events ever occur.

Remember, your business is more than just its servers and applications. You should also determine who the key personnel are, and develop a plan for communicating with and engaging those people during a crisis. You might, for example, ensure that all of your employees have an Internet email account, such as Gmail, that they can use if your mail server goes down.

3. Backup—Some methods of ensuring business continuity are cost prohibitive for most companies. For example, building in numerous levels of redundancy and maintaining multiple data centers in geographically diverse regions would cost a fortune.

One of the most cost-effective and reliable means of ensuring that your servers, applications, and data remain available under adverse conditions is to back them up. As long as you can recover or rebuild, your business can go on. To minimize the potential for loss and to avoid lengthy interruptions to productivity, however, you need to have in place a backup solution that can automatically back up data as it is created—or at the very least, one that can back up data on a timely schedule. Also, make sure that those backups are readily accessible from anywhere.

Symantec has created some powerful tools for business continuity. One of its offerings, Backup Exec.cloud, securely backs up the systems, applications, and data you need, and provides tools for recovering that data to any location that has an Internet connection. What's more, Backup Exec.cloud automatically recognizes and backs up virtual servers as they come online—a must for any business that has virtualized part of its infrastructure.

4. Drill—When it comes to business continuity, the proof is in the pudding. A business continuity plan may look ironclad on paper, but for uncovering flaws and identifying holes in it, you need real-world practice. Conduct periodic drills to make confirm that your business continuity plan works, and to ensure that your workers are familiar with what they need to do during a crisis.

The goal of a business continuity drill isn't to shut down your business, obviously; but strive to make it as realistic as possible, and involve as much of the company as you can.

5. Review—Things change. Your business continuity plan may be perfect for the IT environment you have today, but over time your business will grow. The result will be new servers, new applications, and different processes.

No matter how great your business continuity plan seems, don’t make the mistake of expecting it to stay that way without periodic review and an occasional tweak or two.

This story, "Business Continuity 101" was originally published by BrandPost.

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