Disaster Recovery Thoughts on the Anniversary Year of Alaska’s Great Quake

Some of you may not be old enough to remember, but 50 years ago on March 27, 1964 at 5:36 PM, the most powerful earthquake in United States history – 9.2 on the Richter scale – laid Anchorage and Valdez, Alaska and the surrounding area to waste. While deaths were comparatively low by world disaster standards, the physical damage was catastrophic. Some of the devastation included (USGS):

  • 122 lives lost to the tsunami and 9 to earthquake, which is thanks in part to predominately wood structures and the fact that it was a holiday
  • $311 million in property losses ($2.3 billion today)
  • School system wiped out
  • The Turnagain Heights landslide destroyed 75 homes and was 130 acres wide
  • Water mains and gas, sewer, telephone, and electrical systems destroyed

Were that earthquake to happen today how would your business fare? Sadly, at least 40 percent of businesses affected by a disaster never reopen (Insurance Information Institute).Considering that four out of five earthquakes in the United States occur in Alaska (LiveScience), a disaster recovery plan may be in order.

Today, Forrester reports that 42% of companies are outsourcing disaster recovery services. For businesses that use their own internal data centers to house applications, backing up to public multi-tenant clouds offers a lower-cost, easy-to-deploy disaster recovery solution. Managed Service Providers, particularly those familiar with Anchorage and surroundings, can help build a custom DR plan that will ensure your critical data is protected far from fissures, tsunamis as well as any number of other natural disasters.

When you engage with a Disaster Recovery (DR) service provider, you’ll start by determining what data you need and how fast you need it to get back online. Your plan will, at the very least, include these four components:

  1. Data classification or tiering. Determine which applications and data get recovered first, second, and on down the line. Define the recovery point objective (RPO) and the recovery time objective (RTO) for each tier. Lower RPO-RTO = higher cost.
  2. Replication. Redundancy – having the same data in two places at once – is the most basic tenet of all disaster recovery plans. Your MSP will backup your data in a datacenter far from harm’s way.
  3. Timing. Specify how much data you need to recover, and how quickly, in order to get back up and running.
  4. Testing. You can’t over-test a disaster recovery plan. Simulate an earthquake situation with your MSP, then test the recovery process. Your MSP will recommend frequent testing.

The Small Business Disaster Preparedness Guide from the US Small Business Administration can help your business learn more about how to prepare and avoid data and hardware loss from a disaster. To best fortify your valuable IT infrastructure and data, don’t go at it alone and don’t wait! If this were hurricane country we would see it coming, but earthquakes provide no warning.

Call EMA to help you put a disaster recovery plan together now. Our experts in disaster recovery planning might not have been around in 1964, but they know how to keep your critical data and systems running when the next “big one” comes around. 

Mitigating Unplanned Downtime with IBM PowerHA

Whether it’s caused by nature, a technical glitch, or human error, downtime can be a financial disaster. A recent IDC report published in a variety of articles and blogs equated 10 hours of unplanned downtime per year to a $125,000 loss for a small or medium business. For organizations with more than 1000 employees, that figure could get as high as $17 million.

According to Gartner, 80% of outages impacting mission-critical services will be caused by people and process issues, and more than 50% of those outages will be caused by change/configuration/release integration and hand-off issues through 2015,.

One way to combat downtime is to ensure that you have high availability (HA) systems in the data center. One possible solutions for SMBs is IBM PowerHA on IBM System i. PowerHA technology uses shared storage clustering with the PowerHA SystemMirror, a volume group of disks connected to multiple systems known as an independent auxiliary storage pool (IASP).

According to Steven Finnes, IBM Power Systems Product Management Executive, PowerHA, “In its most basic form, shared storage clustering is about switching access to the shared disk pool between systems, so if system A goes away, system B takes over the data and production.” That means production work can be switched between nodes with a single command.

The PowerHA solution relieves IT of having to perform a logical replication by facilitating hardware-based replication, which saves up to 32 hours a week in replication management. With the IASP, the data is replicated in real time with as little as 10 minutes a week required to monitor the system. PowerHA technology makes data synching simple as well, by keeping the primary and secondary systems in sync at the storage level.

What could be simpler than a system that is largely self-managing? By building storage and/or replicated storage cluster topology, failover and on-demand role swap operations to another node are completely automated. Outages are quickly turned around, whether planned or unplanned. PowerHA systems feature the legendary resiliency and reliability of IBM System i, reducing the need for human intervention and the probability for error and freeing up IT staff to work on more productive projects.

If achieving high availability in your organization requires logical replication, it’s time to take a closer look at PowerHA for IBM i. Educational Management Associates, an IBM Business Partner, can help determine which PowerHA solution is right for your business and manage the implementation as well. For more information about turning downtime into uptime, contact an IBM System i specialist at Educational Management Associates.

How to Reverse the Negative Effects of Uncontrolled Growth

Growth, we’re told, is the “raison d’etre” (reason for existence) in business. It’s why we get out of bed in the morning, don our uniforms, and start making calls before the sun comes up. We want more customers, bigger deals, global expansion, Fortune 1000, and a gargantuan IPO. If the Third Prince of Balbadd can do it, so can we!

But beware. Not all growth is good. If it doesn’t make the enterprise more agile, responsive, and competitive, it’s bad growth. The organization becomes hobbled, predictable, unresponsive, and stagnant. These are the fragmented organizations where the proliferation of redundant, incompatible IT resources have brought growth to its knees.

Bad growth is simply the result of the lack of a long term growth strategy. It’s hallmark is siloed IT, including disparate service management tools and redundant call centers spread throughout the enterprise. One part of the business may be using old versions of legacy apps , while other departments are using something different for the same purpose. ,

Where bad growth has led to fragmentation of IT or business resources, the impact on business can be significant. Data center modernization and consolidation projects offer the opportunity to become more agile while controlling costs to stay competitive. However, IT consolidation is not something you should tackle on your own. The IT consolidation experts at Educational Management Associates have helped many clients create a more efficient data center by following Gartner’s recommended five steps:

  • Strategize and Plan: How much can your organization save in data center space, energy consumption, manpower, and hardware and software investments? How will improved availability, accessibility, ease-of-use, and performance increase productivity? How else will the consolidation efforts impact your bottom line?
  • Architect Solution: Decide how many data centers your company will need and if they should be co-located or outsourced. Develop new disaster recovery and backup plans based on the new configuration. Leverage cloud in your solution.
  • Select Solution: Working with a trusted consultant, decide who will provide the technologies, products and services.
  • Build: Address the most glaring issues first, then build out the total solution in increments, incorporating legacy hardware where possible while striving for optimal costs.
  • Operate and Evolve: Adapt your consolidated infrastructure to industry changes and technology upgrades in the course of day-to-day management. Monitor variables that impact costs like energy consumption, downtime, operational efficiencies, and productivity. Establish policies that build consolidation into your overall business strategy.

Educational Management Associates can help manage each these steps, whether it involves building and populating a new data center or re-architecting an existing one and undoing the damage caused by uncontrolled growth. Position your organization for good growth in the future. To learn more, get in touch with the experts at EMA for a free data center evaluation.

Why it Might Be Time to Consider Managed Services

If your business or medical practice is running a little short-handed or is simply swamped and you find yourself or your associates staying up late to manage your computer systems, you may want to consider outsourcing some of your information technology needs to a managed services firm.

Many companies have been turning to Managed Service Providers to manage their IT infrastructure remotely. MSPs can relieve small and medium businesses of the burden of day-to-day computer systems management, with a variety of services that are often billed out at a flat monthly rate.

The MSP Alliance, an industry association, defines Managed Services as:

“…the proactive management of an IT asset or object, by a third party typically known as a MSP, on behalf of a customer. The operative distinction that sets apart a MSP is the proactive delivery of their service, as compared to reactive IT services, which have been around for decades.”

Depending on the extent of services you might require, you’ll be billed a flat monthly rate that is tied to mutually agreed upon service levels know as a Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Some of the possible solutions the MSP may provide in addition to infrastructure management may include:

  • Managed Backup – Keeping copies of your data in a safe and accessible place
  • Disaster Recovery – Bringing your data back online after an outage precipitated by human or nature
  • Software Applications – Allowing access to applications for Finance, HR, Sales and Marketing, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), workflow, vertical specialty applications for healthcare, real estate, manufacturing, and distribution
  • Business Continuity and High Availability – Ensuring the right data can be instantly accessed at the right time

Small businesses, local education facilities, and medical practices often have common reasons for adopting the IaaS model. IaaS allows a company to grow or shrink computing resources as demands change in a utility costing model so you only pay for what you use. Data centers are located in highly secure locations, with no single point of failure. Services are accessible from an Internet connection anywhere in the world. Best of all, technology upgrades are the responsibility of the MSP, resulting in significant cost savings.

EMA has been providing the most up-to-date technology solutions to the Anchorage area and beyond for over 35 years. At EMA, our goal is to fulfill current and future needs in a cost-effective way. Since EMA clients represent a wide diversity of businesses, we offer a wide array of services to meet the most specific and unique business necessities.

When you’re ready to relieve yourself of the headaches of IT management and learn more about our Managed Services offerings, contact us here.

Five Cloud Migration Myths Put to Rest

So you’re thinking about migrating your business IT to the cloud, but you’ve heard that it can be a risky proposition. This may be especially in Alaska, where it seems the Internet has had connectivity challenges over the past several years. Sure, early adopters may have run into a few snags, and there are plenty of do-it-yourselfers out there that have undoubtedly gotten in over their heads.

Many of the mythical risks of cloud computing are simply ghosts from the past. The Alaska Business Monthly has shared some examples of the myths surrounding the cloud:

1.     Cloud computing isn’t as secure as my in-house data center.

Then why are 94 percent of organizations running applications or experimenting with infrastructure-as-a-service in the cloud? (Rightscale 2014 survey) As IT Business Edge puts it: “The cloud offers safeguards that traditional solutions do not. With cloud-based services, additional layers of protection are not only available – they are a priority for top providers. To succeed in the cloud market, security is paramount. Vendors know they need to provide trusted and secure cloud services to their customers.”

2. My customers are based in Alaska. Local is faster.

When your customer accesses your website, the data request is usually routed to the lower 48 where the handoff is made before being sent back up. Then, the data response from your server heads back down before arriving at your customer’s computer. This double round trip is made every time you load a webpage. The irony: by placing your servers in the Lower 48, they could be twice as fast as having the servers in Alaska.

3. Internet connectivity between Alaska and the Lower 48 is unreliable.

There are four distinct fiber pathways between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and not a single point of failure that would affect all four. If one goes down, the next one picks up the transmission. Connectivity is reliable now and will only get better.

4. Data migration is fraught with peril – data is sure to be lost.

Whether you are transitioning all or part of your company’s data, applications, and services from on-site to the cloud, your provider will be using tools that will seamlessly migrate your data to their servers.

5. In the cloud, I lose control over my enterprise data and my IT infrastructure.

Actually, you’ll gain greater control over your data and your infrastructure when it’s hosted by an MSP, either in the cloud or on their systems because making changes are as simple as making a request of your provider. When you have experts doing the work on your behalf, contracted under Service Level Agreements, you get more control over your IT.

Sometimes it takes a while for technologies to shed what might have been valid first impressions that have turned to myth over time as the technologies mature. This dynamic is certainly true for cloud computing in Alaska. The fact is cloud computing is just as safe and reliable here as it is anywhere else and the benefits are identical:  

  • Cost Efficiency – eliminates the capital expense (CAPEX) associated with developing and maintaining the server infrastructure.
  • Convenience and continuous availability – easy access from anywhere; easy collaboration; guaranteed service; maximum redundancy; auto failover
  • Backup and Recovery – simplified, reliable and flexible backup/recovery solutions
  • Scalability and Performance – pay only for the applications and data storage you need; distributed architectures for excellent speed
  • Quick deployment and ease of integration – instantaneous addition of new users; automatic software integration
  • Increased Storage Capacity – eliminates worries about running out of storage space
  • Device Diversity and Location Independence –access cloud resources on tablets, smartphones, laptops, desktops

Still have doubts about the reliability of cloud computing? Contact the EMA Managed Services team to assess your organization’s needs and how you can start taking advantage of the cloud today.