It’s the smaller disasters that matter

Mention disaster recovery to most businesses and they automatically start to think about power failures, earthquakes or some kind of nationwide catastrophe. It’s because of that attitude, says Plan-B Ltd. founder and director Martin Wellesley, that disaster recovery plans tend to be vague and ultimately not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Instead, Wellesley says disaster recovery plans should focus on the real issue at hand: what kind of outage will affect the business itself.

“If an earthquake flattens the city, frankly, you’re not going to be worrying about getting that shipment off to the airport in a timely manner, are you?” Wellesley says companies shouldn’t plan for Civil Defense-size disasters; instead, they should first consider what would happen to if a disaster struck only their own business.

“That’s the worst case scenario here. If something happens that takes out your business and your ability to service your customers — but leaves the rest of the market intact — you will lose business.”

Enter Plan-B. Wellesley says by targeting issues or failures rather than catastrophes, Plan-B provides a service that is actually useful to companies on a regular basis instead of being protection against something that may never happen.

“We conduct a test of the backup system that’s already in place, to see if we can take the tapes and restore the system on our hardware, lay out the details of what we’d need to do and what the customer would need to do — before they pay for anything.”

Plan-B’s approach is to have its own hardware on standby ready for the call to arms. Because it manages its customer load carefully — Plan-B ensures it doesn’t take too many clients from any one building, for example — customers can expect to have their “nerve center” up and running again within 24 hours.

“Most expect to have things back up within a day and that’s what we aim to deliver.”

Plan-B charges an average of NZ$450 (US$328) a month per customer with an additional fee should the recovery plan be activated. For that money, Wellesley says the customers are buying “peace of mind” and that the company prices its services at that level so the customer doesn’t even have to think twice about signing on.

Lumley Insurance was one of Plan-B’s earliest customers and business solutions manager Greg Covey describes the price as “extremely good value”. Because of the relatively low pricing, Covey says Lumley makes more use of the service than it would a traditional full-scale disaster recovery plan.

“If a server goes down we put a call through to the technical support and one through to Plan-B. That way if it takes four hours and the server still isn’t up, we’re already well underway getting our systems backed up via Plan-B.”

Wellesley says other companies are also using the service for these kinds of failures rather than waiting for the full-on catastrophe.

“We’ve been called by one client and asked to find an email that had been deleted from the operational server. We restored the tapes and found the email for them and it turned out to be an important part of a legal matter.”

Wellesley says he talks initially about Plan-B to CIOs and CFOs, rather than IT managers, because it’s the financial managers who are responsible for business continuity.

“They aren’t looking at the detail of how do I back up and where do I store my tapes, they’re looking at the business issue of what happens if my nerve center is offline for three days.”

Plan-B operates three facilities in Auckland: two locked-down facilities in Mt Wellington and Albany that offer up to 90 seats should a client need to relocate employees such as call center staff, and its head office in a purpose-built center in Albany.

Plan-B stores its customers’ backup at the head office tapes and despatches its couriers to regularly collect and rotate the tapes.

“We find most customers are happier with tapes than using telecommunications to pump the data to us. Besides, if they want it fed back to them at a new location having a tape makes that trivial whereas trying to find out whether the new premises has fiber access, hooking that up, getting the telco techs on site and all of that can be quit a mission.”

Plan-B is also fitting out two trucks to act as mobile nerve centers. Each truck will have room for nine workstations as well as racks for servers and can be parked in a company’s car park for the duration of any outage. Plan-B is also building a number of larger re-locatable units that will house 16 workstations and have full kitchen and bathroom facilities.

“We find some companies want their staff to stay on-site if an outage occurs, so we can drive one of these out, plug it in and they’re up and running.”

Plan-B currently has around 250 customers and is receiving interest from the U.K. as well as Australia. The company has successfully trialled the service for a U.K. firm and hopes to offer service in other centers in New Zealand in the near future.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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