Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity Managed Services

Several years ago, I would ask my clients what their set response was in relation to their IT if they had a disaster. It was amazing how many responded in a similar fashion. “I would throw my hands up in the air and yell HELP!” Obviously they would be hoping their friendly local MSP was listening to their cries for help.

Around this similar time, if I tried to sell a client a DRP solution, they would have preferred to pay for a ‘Dozen Roaming Partridges’ than a ‘Disaster Recovery Plan’.

How times have changed.

The usage and importance of IT has increased dramatically over recent years and, even very small organisations are spending money on a DRP and they want to ensure business continuity. Even a small retail shop admits that, in the ‘old’ days, they could get by without their computer system. They would have a manual docket book under the counter and they could write out a receipt and, if a client wanted to use a credit card, they could use the old-fashioned (and manual) ‘choonk-choonk’ machine (you know the one – you inserted a credit card and pulled the handle over it in both directions and it made a ‘choonk’ noise in each direction). These retailers – that may only have a few computers – realise that this is no longer acceptable. Many of them have their credit card sales linked through their computer system and their automatic ordering and stock-control systems are all intrinsically linked. A computer system down costs them real money every hour it is off the air.

My belief now is that an essential tool in the armoury of every modern MSP is a solution to DRP for their clients. Actually that isn’t quite accurate. Not a solution – a suite of solutions. I start the conversation in relation to DRP with a client with two simple questions. Firstly, how much data can you afford to lose and secondly, how long can you afford for your computer system to be down. These may sound like similar questions but they have important differences. Take the first question, for example. Think of an organisation that receives large orders electronically but has a lead time of three weeks for each order to be processed and delivered. Assume they only receive several orders a day. This type of organisation could be off the air for several hours or possibly even a day and it wouldn’t have a major impact on their business but if they lost just a few hours of data they could lose one sale worth a significant amount of money. At the other end of the spectrum is a busy retail environment. A retailer may process two sales a minute with most sales being by credit card. If they lost data for a day it would be annoying and they would have to do a stocktake to ensure all of their stock levels were OK but it wouldn’t be a disaster. On the other hand, if their computer system was down for one hour, it would mean approximately 120 sales they would probably miss. A retail environment that is selling non-essential items would probably lose those sales forever.

Once you determine the appetite of your client for data loss and downtime, you can design a solution. I am not advocating doing a DRP design from scratch for every single client but I am advocating having a range of solutions to suit clients that have different needs. I am a great fan of having a menu in place and once you start to think about the different circumstances of your clients, you can start to design a menu that allows them to choose different components of a DRP solution. I would start my menu off with the basic breakdown described above – do you want to limit data loss or downtime. From that starting point, you can start to design and describe services that have lower tolerances but cost more. For example, for clients who can’t afford to lose data, you might start off with some live replication of data onto a server on the same site. This wouldn’t start with automatic failover – it would simply be replicated data. Then you might step up to live replicated data to another physical building that is owned by the client but can be connected via a microwave link and then the next logical step would be live replicated data to a service in the cloud. Each step offers higher levels of data redundancy but at a higher cost. You can step through similar processes with a failover system and actually put real-world time delays that could be expected at each step of the way. By putting indicative prices with each step, you will be amazed at how easy it is to sell more DRP solutions. When some businesses hear DRP, it can be a little like a husband when he hears his wife talk about jewellery. They know it is a good idea but they become very scared about the potential price. Businesses know they want a DRP but they often assume the price will be astronomical. Seeing a menu with the potential to choose from the menu makes the overall process much more palatable.

Create a menu and show this off to your clients and tell me how many more clients increased their DRP spend at [email protected].

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