Network failure isn’t an “if” — it’s “when.” This is the motto for proponents of Disaster Recovery as a Service solutions. As the world saw at the end of February 2017, even stalwart cloud providers are not immune to downtime. When Amazon’s S3 web-based storage service went down, websites crashed and connected devices failed as S3 struggled to cope. Even Amazon’s health marker graphics failed to update properly, since those graphics also relied on S3. During the outage they showed “all green,” despite ample evidence to the contrary.
The cause? “High error rates with S3 in US-EAST-1,” which impacted more than 140,000 websites and 120,000 domains. As a clear-cut case for disaster recovery (DR) — despite the failure, Amazon managed to bounce back in less than three hours. For IT professionals, outages like this are often front and center when it comes to convincing C-suites they should invest in reliable disaster recovery (DR). The problem? Sweeping outages caused by natural disasters or massive error rates are the exception, not the rule, leading many executives to wonder if DR is necessary or just another IT ask. Here’s how to craft a convincing argument for solid DR spend.
What’s the source of sudden, unplanned IT downtime? The answer seems simple — “disasters” — but it’s not quite so straightforward. Mention disaster to the C-suite and you conjure up images of hurricanes, wildfires and massive storms. They take a significant toll: Hurricane Sandy caused huge problems in 2012, flooding data centers and knocking out power for companies across the Eastern Seaboard.
Yet there’s another side to disasters. In Iowa, one small electrical fire caused widespread government server outages, shutting down much-needed services and leading to more than $162 million in payments for affected employees, vendors and citizens. That’s the problem with catchall terms like “disaster” — while it’s easy to conceptualize massive weather issues or technology failures, it’s often smaller-scale events that lead to big problems.
For IT pros, this means conversations with C-suite members about DR investment should always include a discussion of probable causes — walk them through what happens if a water pipe breaks in your data center and leaks onto hardware, or if cleaning staff accidentally pull power cords and your servers go dark. What start as “minor” issues can quickly escalate, even when companies take reasonable precautions.
While providing more detail on disaster potential is usually enough to get C-suite attention, IT pros will likely find this kind of doom-and-gloom discussion won’t lead to DR spending on its own. Part of the problem stems from probability; how likely are the scenarios you describe, and can they be mitigated through more cost-effective means? It makes sense — why invest in disaster recovery if better staff training and preventative building maintenance will do the trick?
Success here demands clear communication about the impact of IT outages. Costs of downtime are a good place to start — midsize companies are looking at more than $50,000 per hour of downtime, while large enterprises could shell out $500,000 or more. Also worth mentioning? More variable costs, such as loss of customers choosing to abandon your brand for a competitor or negative publicity surrounding public outages.
There’s another side to the DR story: The increased revenue of uptime. Since it’s tempting to think of “always on” as the default position for IT service, it’s easy to underestimate the benefits of keeping infrastructure on track. However, staying operational means more than just green lights across the board — access to network and cloud services allow employees to collaborate, customers to engage with front-line staff, and C-suite members to oversee daily operations. Interruption to the order of processes limits your overall efficacy.
Last but not least? Come prepared, and make it clear that you’ve got the knowledge to choose wisely. Here’s why: C-suite executives have budgets to plan and costs to justify, and aren’t interested in handing over resources to IT if managers can’t provide specifics. While there’s no need to transform executives into tech experts, it’s worth doing your homework and coming to the table with at least a few ideas.
First, examine general options for safeguarding your data in the event of a disaster. What you need depends on two things: What you can afford to spend, and what you can afford to lose. For example, synchronous data backups give you second-by-second duplication of critical information, so it’s always accessible even if servers go down. It’s also the most expensive option. Asynchronous solutions cost less but come with delays ranging from seconds to minutes — meaning that if disaster strikes, you lose some of your data. Do the math before the meeting — does the cost of synchronous, active recovery outweigh the potential loss of data, or is this a line-of-business (LoB) necessity?
In addition, consider the type of DR service that best suits business needs. While it’s possible to build something in-house from the ground up, most companies can’t afford this kind of time and investment. Other options include self-service, cloud-based DRaaS and fully managed DRaaS — each offers increasing oversight from third-party providers with an additional cost. Taking the time to research potential providers, monthly costs and service levels helps IT make the case to C-suites in familiar executive terms.
You need disaster recovery, but that doesn’t mean your budget is guaranteed. Want to make an effective pitch to the C-suite? Detail disaster potential, make a compelling case, and come prepared with a plan.
Updated: January 2019