As a managed services provider (MSP), you have a stake in the ongoing health of your customers’ IT. When they succeed, you succeed. That makes it worth asking a sticky question: could they survive an IT outage?
Disasters come in many forms, but whatever event takes a customer’s site down, service providers are well-placed to help prepare for them. Whether it’s a physical disaster, such as a fire or flood, or a logical one, like a ransomware attack, some careful planning can help to ensure customers come out shining on the other side.
We know that on average, downtime can be expensive. When Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (IITC) surveyed over 700 global businesses, it found that four in five of them set the average hourly cost of downtime at above $300,000.
These were companies with over 1,000 employees, though, and your customers’ experience may vary. It can be difficult to measure the cost of downtime and its impact on a business because of the variables involved.
Size is just one factor. The nature of a company’s business can also affect the impact of an outage. A manufacturing plant loses money every second that its industrial network is out of action because it cannot make its products. An e-commerce site loses hard sales when people cannot place orders. Conversely, a professional services company that finds itself unable to process open documents or communicate for an hour or two might be inconvenienced, but be able to weather the storm more easily.
Managed services companies can look at these factors when helping companies create a business continuity and disaster recovery strategy. Estimating the impact of unexpected downtime can help them to set their recovery time objective (RTO—the time it takes to restore your data), along with the recovery point objective (RPO—the point in time to which you can restore that data).
Your RTO and RPO will affect your customers’ business continuity and disaster recovery approach. A hot backup, which enables a customer’s operations to fail over to computers at your own site, provides the fastest recovery, as it can eliminate downtime altogether.
This approach involves either maintaining a completely dark set of infrastructures ready to take over from the primary site, or more realistically, an ‘active/active’ infrastructure distributed over two sites, with one able to meet limited demand in the event of the primary infrastructure going down. This approach can be expensive, though. It also needs applications written to support that type of processing.
For companies that can’t afford the cost and complexity of hot backups, offsite full backups can provide peace of mind. By regularly backing up entire copies of files, businesses can ensure they are ready to recover from that destination. This can be problematic when dealing with lots of large files, though, especially if backing up over a wide area network. It may also take some time to recover the files from the backup location or to restore them from physical media.
An alternative is continuous data protection (also known as continuous backup). Like hot backups, this minimizes the recovery point objective, although the RTO can vary depending on how it is implemented.
Instead of backing up an entire copy of its data on a regular basis, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming, a business using continuous backup constantly records any changes made to local data, streaming it to a separate location.
Whichever approach you choose to help customers manage their backup needs, be sure it suits their risk profile—and be sure you’re in the center of the conversation, ready to offer them the disaster recovery and backup options that make the most sense to them.
Danny Bradbury has been a technology journalist since 1989. He writes for titles including the Guardian newspaper, and Canada’s National Post. Danny specialises in areas including cybersecurity, and also cryptocurrency. He authors the About Bitcoin website, and also writes a regular blog on technology for children called Kids Tech News. You can follow Danny on Twitter at @DannyBradbury
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