Emergency Preparedness a Responsibility for the Channel

By Pedro Pereira  |  Print this article Print


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The unprecedented devastation of Katrina underscores how important it is for channel companies to, in their role of trusted advisor, makes sure their customers prepare for catastrophe.

I watched the World Trade Center towers crumble from a 24th floor window in midtown Manhattan.

After the initial shock and the ensuing near paralysis, management in my office dedicated a fair amount of energy into preparing a disaster-recovery plan that would allow us to keep operating should our building ever become unusable.

Watching the heartbreaking images this week coming out of New Orleans and the surrounding area brought back the uncomfortable memories of Sept. 11.

For the many businesses whose buildings no longer exist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one can only hope they had been diligent about data backups and preparing business continuity plans. However, I fear reality is quite otherwise for most small and midsize companies.

And considering so many people have been struggling to even survive, keeping businesses running is understandably not at the top of the priority list.

But the string of major emergencies that have rocked the United States in recent years underscore the need to prepare for the worst. As we have seen with Sept. 11, the 2003 blackout, the four consecutive hurricanes in Florida last year, and the unprecedented devastation of Katrina this week, the worst can and will happen.

Click here to read why disaster preparedness remains a hard sell.

For VARs, integrators and service providers, advising customers on how to prepare for these emergencies is a responsibility and a necessity.

Smaller businesses strapped for resources tend to resist investing in recovery and continuity plans. But the cost of inaction is far greater, especially if it means going out of business altogether should disaster strike. Besides, an effective backup plan can be put in place for a few thousand dollars, so monetarily, it's not a huge investment.

Katrina has come at a time when business in the channel is good. Replacements of equipment installed in Y2K projects, regulatory mandates such as Sarbanes Oxley and HIPAA, and the accessibility of technology that was previously too expensive to SMB companies have fueled steady, though not always stellar, business growth for channel companies this year and last.

How much of an effect Katrina will have on business, especially considering the implications of a halt to oil refinement in the Gulf Coast, remains to be seen.

But channel companies, in their role of trusted advisor, must waste no time in consulting with their customers on how well prepared they are for potential catastrophes. Together, they should review existing recovery plans and backup systems to make sure they work.

VARs, integrators and service companies should make sure their customers are backing up data regularly and keeping the backup copies off site. For channel companies that provide managed services, they ought to include data backups in their contracts.

Customers must also have plans in place for alternative sites to continue operating, even if at a limited capability, in the aftermath of an emergency. Channel companies can play a role here too by helping set up their customers to be mobile and be able to communicate in the chaos that often follows an emergency.

A law firm in New Orleans, for instance, suffered only a 15-minute interruption in e-mail service after Katrina struck because it had signed up with MessageOne Inc.'s hosted Emergency Mail System.

Solutions already exist to deal with many of the eventualities that follow catastrophic events, and I expect to see some innovation from IT companies that are paying attention to the needs created by Katrina.

But none of these will do any good unless channel companies work with their customers to put the necessary systems and recovery strategies in place.


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