Planning for a disaster entails a well-known dilemma. You need a plan, otherwise, no one knows what to do.
But nobody really knows how a disaster will unfold—if we did, it would just be business as usual. So no matter how much and how well you plan, you’re still left wondering what a disaster would really do to your business. How would your employees be impacted? How about your customers? Could you overcome downtime? When was your last backup?
The responsibilities companies have, and the expectations they have to meet, make disaster planning essential. For example, keeping banks, pharmacies, or supermarkets operating during a disaster and in its aftermath is critical for citizens in a disaster-struck area.
They need medicine and supplies, and can’t always depend on whatever cash they have on hand. Some service degradation may be tolerable, but a total loss of basic services, like money transfer or access to healthcare records, can result in tragic losses.
Ensuring continuity of service and data security is therefore critical to most companies today, especially during a natural disaster and in its aftermath. So what can you do?
What to Expect in a Disaster?
To paraphrase Eisenhower, plans are worthless, but planning is everything. The secret to contingency planning is having options: knowing what obstacles you’ll have to deal with, how to approach them, what to prioritize, and what support you can leverage.
The act of planning allows you to explore the problem space and know what to expect, even when things don’t go according to plan.
So what should you expect if a disaster hits? What kind of obstacles and contingencies should you plan for?
Storms and Floods
Iowa is no stranger to tornadoes, flooding, and other severe weather events, so heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes are some of the most common natural disasters to plan for here. In March 2022, the largest tornado outbreak since 2008 brought peak wind speeds of 138 mph, enough to bring down power lines and tear roofs off buildings.
We’re also accustomed to flooding, and water damage is unlike anything else. Floods may not make nationwide news as often but they are, in fact, even deadlier than storms.
These phenomena make power, Internet, and phone outages very common. Furthermore, due to dangerous conditions and the extent of the damage, outages can last for days, even weeks, long after the storm has passed.
In addition to service outages, equipment is often damaged, leading to data loss, and the effectiveness of physical access restraints may be compromised, leading to security breaches.
Large-scale wildfires and earthquakes aren’t much of a concern in Iowa, so that can make us a great location for data centers. Companies on the coasts can diversify data storage with colocation in the Midwest.
Disaster Planning: Power, Data, and Connectivity Resilience
The picture above looks grim, but we have decades’ worth of lessons to draw from.
Disaster response is usually planned in two phases: mitigation and recovery.
Mitigation refers to actions you can take prior to an event in order to minimize its impact on business infrastructure and services. Recovery refers to actions you can take in the aftermath of a disaster, in order to fully restore normal operations.
Both are essential: the impact of a disaster can be minimized, but it can rarely be entirely avoided. Consequently, while it’s important to mitigate risks, it’s equally important to be able to deal with mitigation failures.
The main concern, in any disaster, is human life. Data can be recovered, and its loss can be mitigated. Services can be restored. But life is irreplaceable. If you have a good plan for that, you’ve taken the first step.
Power and Connectivity
Many natural disasters result in power loss, which is one of the easier issues to mitigate. Emergency generators can provide enough power to keep essential services going, and modern electrical installations offer adequate protection against lightning strikes.
Loss of network access is another story. Networked services—both cloud-based and on-prem—are the backbone of today’s business activity. Connectivity loss often results in a total loss of service, so you have to plan for resilience first and foremost.
Cloud services are not a panacea. Data stored in the cloud may be safe from, say, a flood in your area, but access to cloud services depends on connectivity at your end, and on your ISP’s infrastructure.
This renders cloud services vulnerable to natural disasters, too. Furthermore, since you have limited control over the exact location where data and services are hosted, they are vulnerable not only to disasters in your area but elsewhere—wherever they are stored—too. Many of us have experienced the frustration of waiting for an east coast AWS server to come back online.
Many businesses in Iowa opt for a middle ground. Rather than hosting services and data on-premises, where they are inherently vulnerable, or in the cloud, where the loss of connectivity renders them inaccessible, they opt for colocation services in a secure data center, with a direct, resilient connection.
A well-laid private fiber network can ensure that your business passes the no Internet test with flying colors so that your business can continue to operate critical services even without Internet access.
Data Integrity and Security
The destruction of property and equipment during natural disasters routinely results in record losses. That is most easily dealt with through backups. Regularly backing up business data in a secure location, like a secure data center, ensures that no massive data loss is permanent.
The efficiency of backups depends on two factors: resilience and speed. If the backups are destroyed, there’s nothing to recover, so it’s critical to store backups in a secure location, away from the data’s point of origin.
During recovery, you must be able to restore backups quickly, as working off of partially-restored copies is ineffective and frustrating. Consequently, a high-speed network link to the backup site is essential in this phase.
Natural disasters pose major risks not only for data integrity but also for data security. Guarding affected facilities and equipment may be difficult or outright impossible, and login credentials may be inadvertently leaked.
For on-site data, following good disaster planning practices can help you preserve data confidentiality. With good security practices at the data hosting and backup end, security risks can be mitigated for data stored off-site, too. Formal audits, like SOC2, are good indications in this regard.
Resilient Business Infrastructure with Private Fiber Networks
Large, consumer-oriented ISPs plan for natural disasters. But their ability to preserve access to your business services, both during and immediately after natural disasters, is limited by their business model.
Each organization has unique operating requirements, but large ISPs run on uniform, cheap last-mile infrastructure, shared among many customers with identical requirements. Plus, their customer service is often located far away, resulting in longer downtime.
Is There a Better Way to Prepare for a Disaster?
In order to maximize the range of their disaster response options, you can opt for a different model for your Iowa-based business. To avoid dependence on your ISP’s last-mile infrastructure, which is the most vulnerable during disasters, you can operate your own fiber infrastructure.
You can also tailor it to your disaster mitigation requirements to ensure better resilience. Furthermore, operating your own fiber infrastructure enables you to work with local ISPs, rather than large telecom players. The former are typically more flexible in their disaster response and more transparent about their planning.
Want to make sure your business is safe from a disaster? We can help! Get in touch with our consultants to learn more about how an Iowa-based data center can help you!