Present Preparedness

This article appears as part of a seven-part series on Disaster Recovery planning, regardless of institution size and systems in production. Each article will consist of an activity designed to encourage readers to update their own initial DR plan, or even create a new one.

With a completed disaster recover planning document in hand, the time has arrived to present the information gathered to the entire executive cabinet of your institution. Now, when an emergency is not at hand, is the time to make everyone aware that it takes the proper preparations to avoid an emergency. Just as you have no choice but to provide them with service, they have no choice but to care. They need to understand the state of the technology in the business. This is a prudent exercise that places attention on the future state of operations, and one that should actually instill some sense of pride for putting the effort into ensuring that business continuity is being addressed ahead of some unforeseen emergency. 

Just remember that no reaction to the plan is not necessarily bad, nor should it take you off-guard. Consider, however, asking every executive to initial the plan indicating it properly addresses their needs. The purpose of it is not to say, “I told you so” in the future, but rather ensures that each member of the council reads the document today. You now possess the flexibility to clearly communicate the impact of a change to the plan. With a firm list of priorities, costs, dependencies, and importance of every key system on campus, you should be able to speak to how funding impacts performance and reliability. 

Using the matrix example, let’s focus on a typical legacy email system: The license for the legacy system costs the institution $20K/year, and a backup and maintenance plan costs an additional $15K annually. As part of your discussions with administration, help illustrate how to prioritize the system in relation to other systems. Consider how to prioritize the need for this system by evaluating cost in relation to the costs of other systems in the matrix. 

This type of approach will lend itself to two possible paths: Either the institution decides to place a higher priority on maintaining the legacy email system and allocate funds above other system needs, or it can reduce costs and outsource its mail to Google . 

This is the approach and these are the conversations that help technology teams and institutions across higher education create compelling business cases for senior leadership. Without those that put in the work and develop the plan, there would be a lot more instability in the daily operation of an institution and even more uncertainty in the future experience of its students.

A Side Note

Ironically enough this week, even as we publish our series on disaster recovery, our company was faced with a crisis that required us to conduct a live exercise in response to a mistake that took one of our own key business systems offline. While preparing for a future roll out of a new product, a member of our team accidentally loaded a new data structure and its contents into the wrong destination database. The scripts that ran resulted in dropping existing data tables and replacing the tables with empty shells (or in some cases, records from the new system). The application dependent was rendered inoperable, and a scramble ensued. 

Luckily, cool heads prevailed, and within a few minutes, our team sprung into action to identify affected data, locate the most recent snapshot of the system, and systematically restore each data source using a series of two factor checks and balances before certifying a full restore. The entire activity took less than 50 minutes. 

Today’s technology options as related to disaster recovery are far superior to what existed less than a decade ago. Without the services offered in a cloud infrastructure, for instance, this week’s gaff could have resulted in not only the loss of significant revenue but also in the dissatisfaction of clients and subsequent attrition of a customer base. Instead, snapshots of servers in our structure are available with a few clicks. Our clients never even noticed that we ran into an issue.

Orchestrating a recovery effort takes practice, but the technology is available now.