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Plan for the Worst, Achieve the Best

November 7, 2017

The weeks blog centres around planning for availability.

Obviously this isn’t an all-encompassing check list for Disaster Recovery (DR) planning, but it should provide a high level starting point.

Availability, or uptime, are priorities for all businesses big and small. The keys to which are understanding and planning. -One important point to bear in mind, you don’t need to have all the information right away, and you don’t need to be overly granular straight away, that will come as the plan evolves.

Understanding: This is an entirely business orientated issue in the first instance.

  • Understand the business topology (departments, sub departments, etc)
  • Understand the way they work, and the tools they rely on.
  • From here you should be able to state which departments are the most important, and how long the business can live without these delivery areas – this helps to define your RPO’s and RTO’s.

At this point you can start your plan. As I’ve already mentioned, don’t get hung up on the details too early, IT is nothing more than a business enabler and as such the technology is arbitrary. Understand what the business does, and what it need to do as a bare minimum to keep operating.

Planning: Once you’ve established the business delivery area’s and their respective recovery objectives you can start to dig into the nitty gritty:

  • Where are these key services located?
  • How are they accessed? (this can play a large part, you need to make delivery of those tools & services as simple and cost effective as possible)
  • How often are they backed up?
  • Where & how are the backups stored? (are you meeting the 3-2-1 rule)
  • It’s important at this point to engage with your product vendors (either through your internal IT department or trusted IT partner) to understand what data is required to recover those respective services back into an operational state.

At this point you should have an understanding of where you are and where you need to be, and you can start putting together a Disaster Recovery plan, this should consist of:

  • Business Topology and the associated tools/services
  • RTO & RPO’s
  • Possible DR Scenarios (don’t get hung up on this, it’s impossible to predict every scenario, focus on the high level: specific localised failures, loss of the business premises, etc.)
  • Where the services will be located/recovered to
  • Vendor Contacts
  • Staff Contacts
  • DR Co-ordinators (who within your business will be responsible for co-ordinating the recovery, vendors and staff).

Now here comes a very important step: TESTING. Test your plan, recover your services in an isolated environment and review. Was it successful? Was it within your Recovery Objectives? If the answer to any of these is NO then you need to work with your vendors & IT partners to understand why and identify changes to address this.

It’s important to note that your DR process(s) is an evolving document. Every time there’s a change to the business, be it strategic or technical, look at how this affects the businesses Recovery Objectives and the DR Plan.

Every businesses DR plan will be unique to them, but as a general rule there are two area’s which can simplify the process and drive down Recovery Times:

  • Native High Availability – ensure your local resources have high availability and are fault tolerant (where possible). Mitigating the start of a disaster is far less costly than dealing with one! Look at moving your services into hosted offerings, Office 365 is a great example, Microsoft have spent billions making a highly available and fault tolerant infrastructure to provide it’s services. Piggy back on this and you can significantly mitigate the risks and impact of hardware and site failure.

As part of investigating this avenue with your prospective vendor, ask about their uptime SLA’s and DR plans, make sure you have confidence that they can meet their promises and keep your business running. It’s also worth looking at having a vendor agnostic backup of your data, at the end of the day it’s your data and keeping a copy in an independent location will help you achieve the 3-2-1 rule and protect your business

  • Implement An Availability Solution Not A Backup Solution – for those of you who read my previous blog you’ll know I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about backups. A backup is a copy of your data stored separately from the production copy of your data. For day to day file recovery that’s great but what about loss of whole services or hardware? Where are you going to restore your failed service(s) to? An availability solution should provide you with not only the backup mechanism but a place with which to recover to, be it local or in the cloud. It also goes some way to making your DR plan a lot simpler as you already have the recovery process in mind as well as a console to orchestrate from. Good backups will be a by-product of a good availability solution.

Written by; Russell Gower-Leech Bsc – Select Technology Systems Senior Project Consultant

Russ has been working in IT with MSP’s for over 10 years, starting as a support engineer and working his way up through field engineer, project engineer and finally found his calling as a Consultant. He really gets a kick out of designing technical solutions to meet, and exceed, Clients business needs.

He is one of Select’s Cloud Champions, helping clients leverage the power and flexibility of the hybrid cloud. He is also the in-house Veeam Evangelist – “I really love the flexibility and resilience of Veeam based solutions, especially as I spent the early parts of my career working with products like Backup Exec.”

Hear no Evil, See no Evil

November 1, 2017

The Insights Team are one of the proactive sides of our services department. We look after the software and tools that assist our engineers in delivering an excellent service. We’re also tasked with ensuring that the essentials, such as antivirus software, patching, cloud based email and backups are delivered consistently and efficiently.

Being proactive means that we operate outside of the regular service desk environment, where the focus is naturally on reacting to, and resolving issues when they arise.  We’re busy behind the scenes looking at how we can prevent the issue from occurring in the first place.

When our service desk processes a support ticket, they will gather as much relevant information as possible. This is not only important in providing a timely resolution, but it assists us greatly in building a better picture of the challenges our clients are facing.

Using our business intelligence tools, we perform regular reviews of the tickets we’ve handled recently. This enables us to identify trends and potential pain points, with a view to providing a solution to the root cause, rather than just the symptoms. If we see that 90% of a client’s tickets relate to failed backups, or there’s a spike in tickets relating to the wireless network, we’ll be asking why. This helps us to provide a truly proactive service. Using this intelligence, we can work with other areas of the business to provide long term solutions, reducing the number of support tickets that the client has to open.

Another area that’s constantly on our radar is efficiency. We’re always looking at better ways to carry out common tasks, which in turn leads to quicker resolution times for our clients. This can range from defining tried and tested processes for our engineers, to scripting the entire solution. Having spent a number of years on the service desk myself, I’m aware that time is limited for developing longer term efficiency savings ‘on the fly’. The priority has to be resolving live issues. The Insights Services team is ideally placed to take on these tasks.

Also hard at work in the background is our Remote Management and Monitoring (RMM) software. This is busy detecting unpredictable issues as they arise, such as hardware failures and offline servers. The fine tuning of this system is an ever evolving task for the Insights Services team. We constantly look at ways of automatically healing issues that are detected, meaning there is a resolution long before the end user is affected.

Another important part of our work in Insights Services is carrying out regular reviews of the software and systems we deploy. In a fast paced industry, it’s essential to make sure we’re benchmarking our current packages against alternative offerings. By the same token, we’re always on the lookout for changes, or news within the industry which may affect our clients, such as a recently discovered security threat.

Working within Insights Services is a rewarding role. The changes we make are often subtle, however the benefits can be widespread.