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Disaster recovery channel opportunities Q&A with Greg Schulz

Disaster recovery (DR) best practices can help channel professionals get their customers' DR planning and testing off the ground. Industry expert Greg Schulz tells us how.

What disaster recovery (DR) opportunities exist for the channel?

Disaster Recovery
 

The opportunities for channel professionals are varied. There are classic headline news disasters: the Katrinas or hurricanes, fires, floods, terrorist-type acts. Channel professionals can work with their clients to assess which risks are applicable in their environments; certainly a company in the midwest would be more susceptible to tornadoes than to hurricanes. Then there are the disasters that you don't hear about, such as power outages or car accidents; your office may be fine, but you can't get to it because of an accident . Wasn't it in Boston last week [where SearchStorageChannel.com is based] where you had a marketing tactic go afoul? For a business, if everything is jammed up, you can't get to work. Different types of disasters call for different measures?
Absolutely! It's all about applicability. It's about the likelihood that a disaster is going to occur. You had one in Boston a couple years ago with the Big Dig when somebody took out one of the fiber optic cables. A lot of the Internet-related work was impacted. Some companies are going to be more at risk than others. A company that is very visible in the marketplace -- whether it's because the type of business they do, who they are or what their corporate profile is -- will be more vulnerable. There are the acts of man, the acts of God and then the things that are more likely to occur on a daily basis. Something happens inside a building: maybe it's a fire, maybe somebody spilled a cleaning chemical and it gets into the ventilation system -- that means everybody has to leave the building. We don't necessarily think of these things as disasters. So it's a channel professional's job to help a customer anticipate the worst?
That's what it comes down to. Channel professionals tend to work in particular verticals. They can leverage their knowledge and experience of various verticals and their clients' exposure profiles to help them assess risk: What are the disasters most likely to occur? Is it an act of man (terror attack), an act of God, a fire, a flood, an accident? Or is it the likelihood that an employee could compromise a server or data of some sort? It's applicability. The channel pro can also leverage his or her knowledge of the local environment. How does a channel professional help a customer prepare for an emergency?
 

(As a channel professional), you must be familiar with your clients. Understand what your client's business is about and what it needs to run. That's where a business impact analysis (BIA) comes in. As a service, a channel professional can engage with a customer and then leverage what he or she knows about that client. If a local channel professional knows the local economy, environment, risks and threats, he can leverage that. Go a step deeper and help that customer look at the business and assess what it needs to run and survive. Do more than just make sure data is backed up regularly. Know the key people involved, their knowledge and skill sets. Are any disaster relief challenges unique to the channel?
If you are focused on a bank or a financial business you can leverage your skill set and knowledge about safe banking. But if you are a different sort of channel pro, or have a varied portfolio -- say financial, government or manufacturer -- then you have to keep in mind a number of thngs: different rules, regulations, compliance, threats, security concerns, recovery points and recovery time objectives. It can be very specialized, but it also can be somewhat generalized. If you're a storage vender, you might just look at it from a storage-centric standpoint. However, as a channel person you might be providing that customer with the servers and the network along with the software that ties it together. It's multidimensional. Channel pros are dealing with environments in SMBs, where their customers are jacks-of-all-trades. What's the first step a channel professional should take to help a customer prepare for disaster?
Sit down with that client and state what you know; state the obvious. Document what you know, see and think. Adjust those things and refine them. The key to a recovery plan is this: Don't assume anything. Get it out on the table and down on paper. Communicate it and keep it up to date. In your article Disaster recovery: Points to consider you say that businesses need to be on top of certain things. For example, their budgets and the data they need to protect. What about the customer who isn't on top of these things?
The first question a channel professional should ask a customer is how are you protecting your data, and what do you believe to be your risks? Determine whether the customer has a realistic view of the threat risks. That customer may think they are protected, not realizing that they have points of exposure. Then look at how they are currently protecting their data and determine whether they need to make changes and adjustments. Look at the business itself and assess what it absolutely and positively needs in order to continue to run -- IT equipment, systems and applications, and how long it can run when using manual or other procedures. In that article you used the term "belt-and-suspender approaches." Can you talk about these?
It's an old saying that means you are so concerned about your pants falling down, you wear a belt and suspenders. People who are very concerned about eliminating things from happening use this approach. Instead of having to resort to a disaster recovery plan, why not try to prevent the disaster. You can't prevent a fire or flood, but you can take steps to protect yourself from being impacted by a fire or flood. Think about having full containment, full isolation, redundant adaptors and redundant components on your servers and your storage; that way if someone kicks off the power cord, you don't shut everything down. It's about fault isolation. A lot of disasters are linked back to this thing called chains of events: Somebody kicks off a power cord on a server; that server shuts down and causes an application to fail; the application failing causes some other event and the next thing you know you've got a chain reaction. The northeast power outage of 2003 was a chain of events. Something happened back in Ohio. The fault wasn't contained at the localized substation. It then spread to another substation that then spread to the local grid, which shut down, causing the bigger grid to shut down. Had it been contained, you wouldn't have had that outage. Are there any disaster recovery tools that you would recommend to channel professionals?
That comes up a lot. Is there a silver bullet tool? It depends on how you are coming at this: If you are providing a service for doing business impact analysis (such as disaster recovery plans), yeah there are tools out there, vendors who supply the tools and consulting services for building and documenting your disaster recovery plan, and for conducting business analysis. If your focus is making sure your data is protected, then you have the tools that focus on things from that side. It comes down to what level, what angle and what service you are providing. Does continuous data protection (CDP) have a role in disaster recovery?
It's a great idea to have your data constantly backed up. The problem with it is this: Is it coherent and consistent? Is it in the right order? You might have all the data backed up to the last minute, but it might not be accurate and complete. If your recovery strategy is such that you need to have all your data protected to the last second, you need to be looking at a much more comprehensive approach, such as preventing that disaster. What am I worried about happening that requires that fine-grained recovery capability? Is it data corruption or data deletion? Is it a disaster? If it's a disaster, I want to make sure I'm running synchronous replication mirroring with transaction replication. If that doesn't apply to my business, let's back off of that fine grade and look at some other attributes, then balance the cost with the business impact. Do you have any other recommendations?
From a disaster recovery or disaster avoidance business continuance perspective, there are a lot of opportunities for channel professionals to sell and position point solutions. There are also opportunities in overall data protection and business protection strategy. They range from looking at threat analysis, threat factors and business impact analysis, to determining what applications and data need to be protected and how. The channel program can bring a lot of value and capabilities by aligning the right technologies with the different threats and assessing which applications are needed.

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