Severe Weather Doesn’t Have to Be Disastrous for Business

By Scott Kinka

Though signs of summer are apparent, it’s tough to forget that winter 2013–2014 was one of the coldest on record in parts of the country, according to the government’s official monthly climate report released recently. The cold and snow had a direct impact on the bottom line of many businesses as offices across the U.S. shut down for days, resulting in business disruptions and revenue loss – especially if employees were not to work from home. Now with hurricane season upon us, businesses should take a lesson from this past winter’s experiences to minimize potential further disruption to come.

While some industries cannot avoid losses due to severe weather, it is possible for many organizations to be productive and profitable even when workers can’t get to the office. Companies that implement cloud-based technology in some capacity are seeing far less business disruption associated with inclement weather or extreme weather-related disasters.

The John M. Glover Agency and Hurricane Sandy: The IT and executive teams at a national insurance company, The John M. Glover Agency, know firsthand how valuable a redundant cloud platform can be during a natural disaster. In 2012, as Hurricane Sandy raged off the mid-Atlantic coast, the organization was able to access all of its key systems and data to proactively service customers. As the storm bore down, associates at the firm were able to take advantage of virtualization services to stay safe and productive from home. With a cloud-based platform in addition to glitch-free unified communications systems, Glover employees had no problem connecting to applications like Office, QuickBooks, ACT, and proprietary databases, helping them stay in constant communication with customers and prospects.

According to a Dun & Bradstreet report, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy potentially affected some 1.5 million businesses located across nineteen counties in the tri-state region. These businesses employ 9.3 million individuals across 1,000 different industries, all who were vulnerable to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Cloud Computing Survey: Glover is just one example of a company seeing the tangible benefits of using a cloud-based infrastructure. A recent survey asked 1,000 executives and IT professionals in mid-market organization about cloud adoption. The survey found that nine out of ten agree: The future model of IT is definitely cloud computing. In accordance with that number, Forrester Research expects the global market for cloud to reach $118 billion in 2014. More simply put, the cloud delivers tangible benefits, and IT pros and executives know it.

In the survey, “disaster avoidance/recovery/business continuity” was the highest ranked expected benefit of moving to the cloud, as cited by 72 percent of respondents. Regardless of the specific plan, it is safe to say that in the wake of significant weather emergencies and unforeseen events, businesses are more concerned today than ever before about operational continuity and disaster recovery.

Most businesses have a simple disaster recovery plan that involves sending backups to an off-site facility or using an online service to back up data. However, those plans often do not detail exactly how that data and applications will be recovered, how quickly they can be recovered, or how they will be used in the event that the server or infrastructure on which it was originally located is lost or destroyed. Nor do most organizations’ disaster recovery plans account for how users will continue to communicate with the server, applications, each other, customers, and vendors if a location is unreachable. While there is a perception that implementing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan could be complex, cloud-based technologies enable businesses to remain productive even in the height of a weather emergency.

The Cloud Keeps Productivity at Peak Levels: The cloud can help organizations rise above natural disasters, a realization that became clear to executives at Apria Healthcare following Hurricane Katrina. As the devastating hurricane hit New Orleans and storm waters knocked out telephone service, Apria, a national deliverer of home healthcare services, could not take calls from customers, many of whom had made hurried departures from the area and were now in need of extra oxygen tanks and other supplies. Following Katrina, executives at Apria sought a new communication solution that would provide cost savings, simplification, and a good customer experience, as well as a disaster recovery and business continuity capability.

With more than 550 offices nationwide, Apria selected a geographically redundant, active-active cloud solution for placing calls, routing, and data. Through this deployment, phone systems could be accessible from any branch at any time and calls could be shared without geographical constraints. Moreover, if a branch was compromised due to a local issue, such as a power outage, Apria could redirect calls for that branch to a location that had not been compromised.

Sure enough, the new infrastructure was tested shortly after implementation, as twenty of Apria’s offices were directly in Sandy’s path. The company was able to change their call routing to forward calls from sites impacted by Sandy to other locations that could serve those customers. As a result, the company avoided downtime, even though both phone and data connectivity were lost due to the storm.

Cloud hosting affords businesses access to resources, servers, and software, virtually eliminating any concern that a disaster – or even a simple outage – will affect productivity. Moving applications and infrastructure to a cloud – be it private, public, or hybrid – ensures that applications are available from any location regardless of what’s happening at the physical site.

Summary: In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina became the seventh most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Atlantic coast, affecting eight million people and causing billions of dollars in damage. The primary concern during a severe weather event is, undoubtedly, the safety and well-being of the people and communities that are hit. Secondarily, businesses must think about the potential impact on business operations, revenue, and the bottom line. A solid IT shift toward cloud computing might have saved some of the companies affected by these hurricanes from the devastating lack of business continuity and revenue loss. The cloud is a proven strategy to circumvent many of the problems inherent to surviving a disaster of any kind.

Scott Kinka is CTO at Evolve IP (www.evolveip.net), the Cloud Services Company™ that provides center managers with more control and deeper insight into their operations.

[From the Aug/Sep 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]