Ontario in the dark

A vendor-sponsored survey of 300 Ontario firms’ preparedness for disaster one year after the massive blackout that hit the province in 2003 has found that only 30 per cent of them now have a backup plan in place. One analyst, however, questioned whether such setups are necessary for all outfits.

The survey, commissioned by Toronto-based Fusepoint Managed Services and Mississauga, Ont.-based Agility Recovery Solutions, polled the medium- and large-sized businesses online and discovered that less than one-third have set up a comprehensive disaster recovery gameplan.

“It seems like this is a huge priority when the lights are out, and then it slips to an afterthought once the lights come back on and the systems come back up,” said Stephen McWilliam, director, partners and alliances for Fusepoint Managed Services. “That’s the scary part. This takes not a large investment, but the downside of not doing it is huge.”

McWilliam added that the number one cause of downtime for systems is a lack of power.

“There’s no reason why companies need to have their computers in an environment that doesn’t have perpetual power,” he said.

Mark Quigley, research director for Yankee Group Canada in Kanata, Ont., however, believes not all companies are in dire need of business continuity setups.

For a small, one-location manufacturing facility the cost will be considerable, he said.

“If you’re looking at doing anything seriously about that, you’re looking at getting diesel-powered generators out back, and that is not going to be an insignificant expense,” Quigley said. “You balance that expense against the business loss that may occur if power is out for a significant period of time, and you probably say, ‘I’m not going to spend the money.’”

Quigley added that pressure to adopt a disaster recovery plan is more acute for companies that are publicly traded and less so for privately-run shops.

“If you’re a mid-size company, the shareholders are maybe the owner operators. It’s privately held; you don’t have public shareholders to worry about because the money is in your pocket.”

For IT-focused companies, however, it becomes a very different situation, Quigley said. “When you’re starting to look at data being lost or servers getting fried, if you don’t have redundant systems in place, then perhaps you can argue that the business case is more compelling.”

And while most companies have an online presence and use the Internet in one way or another, again, there are different levels of risk involved when disaster strikes, Quigley said.

“Internet access is more or less ubiquitous, (but) for a lot of companies it’s simply not core to what they do. If you lose your e-mail for a day, oh well — you’ll get by, compared to a company that is moving a lot of data around or has a lot of supply chain management or customer relationship management (software) in place, where the impact is going to be a much deeper one.”

One company that did have a disaster recovery plan in place in time for the 2003 blackout was Genesys Conferencing in Toronto. The firm provides audio, video and Web conferencing services to customers throughout the world. It set up shop with Fusepoint three weeks before the lights went out across the province.

According to Eric Williams, network operations manager for Genesys, working with Fusepoint represented but one step in the company’s goal of eliminating single points of failure on its network. During the blackout, “we all sort of wiped our brows and thought, ‘What if we didn’t (have this in place)?’”

Genesys rents space from Fusepoint so that it is able to have its “network analysts go over and use their high-availability network to connect to our system,” Williams said. “We have a pre-configured portable system here that we take over in the event of a power failure in our office and we can just connect into their network.”

Williams described the Fusepoint survey findings as “pretty interesting. You would’ve thought that more people would have taken note after last year’s events and done something about their business recovery resumption plans. It was surprising.”

While the survey was conducted only among Ontario businesses, Fusepoint’s McWilliam said his firm is “right across Canada, and we certainly have the same conversations with all kinds of businesses.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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