Dealing with disaster

A successful disaster recovery plan will ensure there are adequate back-up systems to prevent data loss.

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

According to a worldwide survey commissioned by HP and conducted by GCR Custom Research, 59% of respondents stated that inexperienced internal resources are a key factor to companies not having a business continuity plan (BCP).

Included in the business continuity plan is disaster recovery, an area that many IT managers don't see as a priority.

However, without the immediate implementation of a disaster recovery plan (DRP) a company is exposing itself and leaving itself open to the many threats that are out there.

The role in which a facilities manager can play is often overlooked and seen as insignificant. But who else knows and understands how the company's buildings/offices are run?

From the minute a building has been handed over, there should be a DRP in place. The FM is often the person tasked with communicating with other key departments to ensure that an effective and comprehensive disaster recovery plan is in place that will cover all eventualities.

Communication is vital. Each and every member of staff needs to be informed of what to do in case of a disaster to avoid adverse circumstances.

There are many different types of disaster. They range from natural disasters such as earthquakes, to fires and terrorist attacks, to power failure and deliberate sabotage.

Each event could cause minimal or maximum disruption and therefore companies and FMs should prepare for the worst. For example: A FM for a huge blue-chip organisation in Dubai receives a phone call in the early hours of a Monday morning from their security guard, telling them there is a huge, blazing fire at the office. The security access control system confirms there is no one in the building and the size of the fire is not yet known.

When the FM arrives on site, it is instantly obvious that the fire has caused severe damage to the building, both internally and externally. Other key members of staff have been contacted and the DRP is implemented.

There are many other areas in a DRP plan that take place in the event of a disaster, but the main priorities for a FM are: relocation, UPS (uninterrupted power supply), data management and assessment of the disaster.

In this instance, the fire has caused significant damage, leaving the existing building incapable of being able to deliver any kind of operation.

The DRP will detail a timescale that the facilities manager and other members of staff will have to adhere to. There will be service level agreements in place and the FM will need to have the company up and running again (to an acceptable level) in an agreed time scale.

Downtime has an immediate impact on a company's bottom line. The longer it takes for operations to be up and running again, the more money the company is losing. "In today's global marketplace, any amount of downtime can be devastating, if not terminal, to a business," says John Hoonhout, HPS manager and acting technology solutions group lead of HP Middle East.

The DRP will also detail the business areas that are most crucial to the company. These should be ranked in order of importance so staff are aware of what they should concentrate on.

While phone calls are being made to get people in to assess the structural damage to the building, the FM has been sourcing alternative office space. The DRP will detail what the FM needs to do and who they should contact.

Some companies may be lucky enough to have other offices in the area where staff can help manage the operations that were originally run at the now damaged building. If the only option is to move into empty offices, furniture and equipment will need to be bought.

As part of the DRP, a budget should have been agreed if the FM or other key staff members require immediate funding for new equipment and furniture. A new server room and place to hold all the other systems will also need to be found.

If using rented office space, security and access control will also be a key consideration. Does the building offer these facilities? If so, how do you go about making sure all employees using the new/temporary office space have access to everything they need?

Another alternative is to ask employees to work from home. In order for this to happen, they may need remote access to company information (for example, emails).

In a big company, it is vital that a disaster recovery communications room and team is instantly set-up. This will ensure that communication is passed through a central help desk and updates can be fed through one departmental source, ensuring a smooth start to recovery.

Data management

The IT department have made sure there are back-up procedures in place in the event of a disaster. Research by Gartner, a company offering independent technological advice, has shown that two out of every five companies that experience data loss will go out of business within five years of the disaster.

"It is important to consider causes of both unplanned and planned downtime when designing a fault tolerant and resilient IT infrastructure," explains Mohamed Alojaimi, technology marketing manager, Oracle Middle East and Africa.

"Unplanned downtime is primarily the result of computer failures or data failures. Planned downtime is primarily due to data changes or system changes that must be applied to the production system."

"Operation practices are key to the successful implementation of IT infrastructure. Technology alone is not enough. They need to implement a set of proven best practices for building highly available systems, with the goal of removing the complexity in designing the optimal high availability architecture," Alojaimi adds.

Many companies choose to have their data backed-up by an external company. In this instance, having an outside outsourced IT provider has proven to be invaluable as all data is stored off site and away from the company's own server room, which now lies in ruins due to the fire.

When staff are instructed to start work in their new office space later in the day, data will be accessible and day-to-day running of the business can start to resume. In the Middle East, it is still said that many IT staff still don't treat disaster recovery as a top priority.

Are they right to take this stance? "Of course they are not right because in the event of a disaster, hardware and networks can be replaced and facilities can be moved to a new location," states Alojaimi.

"A company that has lost its business data will find it very hard to remain in business," he adds.

By the end of the day, the FM has been able to source new offices, furnish them, set up a disaster recovery unit, liaise with IT to ensure all staff can access everything they need data wise, instruct the insurance company to conduct an in depth structural report of the damaged building to see if and when repair work can start and, inform the managing director everything is up and running again.

If a DRP hadn't been in place, it is fair to say that there would be absolute chaos. In these kind of situations, people need to know and understand what their responsibilities are to ensure the business is effected as little as possible.

The amount of money saved my having an effective DRP can run into millions, dependant on the size of the company. But what is more important to remember is that many companies who suffer at the hands of a disaster lose their business. The implementation of a disaster recovery plan could well save your business.

What companies can do to recover data… advice from Oracle

• Backup and recovery. A well-designed and well-integrated Backup and Recovery strategy, without data loss, is a must for every database deployment.

• Snapshots. Snapshots are images of all or part of a disk filesystem that are taken periodically and stored in another disk allocation.

• RAID (Redundant Array Of Inexpensive/Independent Disks). The fundamental principle behind RAID is the use of multiple hard disk drives in an array that behaves like a single large, fast one.

• Remote data mirroring. In Remote Data Mirroring, data is replicated between a primary and a remote secondary storage subsystem by sending track-by-track changes from the primary site to the remote site over a secure network. In the event of an outage or a disaster, the database may be restored and recovered at the mirrored site, and systems may then point to this mirrored site and continue operations.

• Data Replication. In contrast to remote data mirroring, Data Replication is a software-based solution that copies data from the primary database to one or more secondary databases. These multiple databases together constitute a distributed database system.

• Automated Standby Databases. Automated Standby Databases are an effective means for disaster recovery by providing a completely automated framework to maintain transactionally consistent copies of the primary database. Changes can be transmitted from the primary database to these standby databases in a synchronous manner - enabling zero data loss, or in an asynchronous manner - minimizing any potential performance impact on the production system.


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