We'd all rather prevent a disaster than have to live with the consequences of one. But when something unforeseen happens, how do you keep your business ticking over and keep critical services up and running, so you can get back on your feet as quickly as possible? It all comes down to the resilience of your network.
The obligation to provide business continuity comes from the very top, with governments, banks, hospitals, and private sector institutions committed to providing round-the-clock essential services.
With technology integral to all teams in every department of every organization, business continuity is a shared responsibility that extends far beyond the realms of the IT Department. In fact, without coordinated systems and protocols, the risk of end users introducing threats and dependencies becomes far greater.
Increasingly strict data protection regulations, less forgiving business continuity standards, and exponential data growth have all led to a demand for smarter, integrated network and disaster recovery solutions. No small task when IT architecture is becoming ever more complex as legacy and modern network components collide.
Worst of all, when things do go wrong, system failures are often immediately visible not just to the end user...but also to a global audience. The Internet has not only propagated the expectation that services are 'always-on', it has also seeded a pandora's box of potential security vulnerabilities which threaten to undermine these services. And network management plays a critical role in this.
Network management is the delivery and maintenance of a secure ecosystem of applications, servers, tools, and related data processes. It relies on healthchecks to leverage the available resources in the most efficient way, meaning they remain available to end users at all times.
The ultimate goal of network management is therefore to optimize network health and ensure all of these integrated components remain secure, stable, and high performing to deliver business continuity. But how do you achieve this?
Business continuity planning
It is paramount that planning is undertaken to understand the potential risks to business continuity. While extreme situations like natural disasters and terrorist attacks still need to be considered a threat to business operations, one of the greatest challenges now facing businesses is an increasingly sophisticated array of cyberattacks.
Here are some suggested steps for those looking to insure themselves against these threats:
1.Identify mission-critical services
Critical applications can't be protected or ringfenced without first being identified. It is therefore important to determine which websites, systems, software, associated servers, related applications, and other critical dependencies are required to deliver fundamental internal or external services.
This includes humans, as well as systems! It's no good having cutting edge Web Application Firewalls (WAF) or tailored storage solutions that only a select handful of IT managers are able to configure, rearchitect, or deploy for example. So streamlined, more user-friendly technology may also play an important role in managing your risk.
2.Measure the impact of a loss of service
The cost of an interruption in business operations caused by a system failure or data breach can be measured not just in terms of the financial cost, but also in reputational damage. So quantitative and qualitative measures need to be used to identify the true cost of downtime.
This, in turn, then allows the following objectives to be determined...
3.Set your Recovery Time and Recovery Point Objectives
These metrics formally determine the amount of downtime or data loss that is acceptable to the business, and therefore the resilience of the network.
- Recovery Time Objective (RTO) - The measure of how long your application can be offline.
- Recovery Point Objective (RPO) - The maximum length of time that the data can be lost without having a significant impact on the business.
There is typically a tipping point, past which there is no return. So even if you have great backups, once you reach a point where the system has been down for a certain length of time, data recovery may then become unsustainable.
Business continuity solutions
Finding solutions to these threats is a two-pronged risk management play. Not only should organizations have a well-rehearsed backup plan should things go wrong, but they also need to try and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Here are just some of the business continuity solutions designed to address these challenges:
- Increase security - As alluded to above, data security is one of the biggest risks to business continuity. Cybersecurity measures are essential to provide protection from ransomware and other malicious threats. Keeping software up to date also plays an important role in ensuring the security of the network components.
- Protect against downtime - High availability solutions such as load balancing can remove the single point of failure, providing redundancy and immediate failover in the event of a system failure, or maintenance. This delivers system resilience.
- Spread your risk - Not overcommitting to a single vendor or cloud platform provider makes sure you avoid putting all your eggs in one basket and ultimately reduces your risk of downtime.
- Load test your applications - It's important to load test your applications to see if they can handle increased and unexpected traffic. For more detail, check out this blog: What can we learn from the Facebook outage?
- Monitor your network - By investing in good monitoring tools to foresee any problems and resolve issues quickly, you can identify potential weaknesses in your network. Keeping systems separated will also help you ringfence your workflows and any associated issues.
- Put change controls in place - Change control is designed to address issues that result in changes to scope or any other part of the baseline plan. It will typically include a change proposal, at least 1 stage of review, detailed instructions on making the change, and a Rollback Plan.
- De-risk your architecture - Wherever possible, architecture should be simplified to de-risk and future-proof IT infrastructure. This will also help with phased implementation, testing, and maintenance.
- Avoid going End-of-Life - Ensure your software never goes End-of-Life, or (even better) try to avoid this altogether! Software that's end-of-life will no longer be supported, failing to protect you against new vulnerabilities.
- Backup your data - Immutable backups are crucial in the fight against ransomware. Data stored securely on an immutable backup system is fixed and unchangeable, meaning that it cannot be deleted or modified. This is especially important when it comes to ransomware as data on an immutable backup is impervious to infections. By keeping an archive of immutable Object Storage backups, the organization is guaranteed to be able to recover data by finding the last clean backup on record. This also means that data is recoverable at any time, providing protection against the intentional or unintentional deletion of data.
- Build multi-site resilience - Solutions such as Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) exist to solve the problem of multi-site resilience, allowing internet or corporate network traffic to be distributed across servers in multiple locations, anywhere in the world. This provides a failover solution that can automatically reroute traffic to the best available server based on the users' location.
Continue to test and learn
Ultimately business continuity solutions must be able to backup and protect systems, applications, and hardware. Not only must these individual elements be independently safeguarded, but their dependent infrastructure as well.
Unsure how to guarantee the resilience of your network? Contact our experts for help and advice.