Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey -- an IT Perspective

What did Harvey teach us about our IT systems?

Hurricane Harvey caused wide-spread destruction across Texas at levels that have not been seen before.  So much has been written and will continue to be written about the impact of Harvey on our communities.  I'd like to share what we learned from an IT perspective.  Most of us are either employees, managers, or owners of small and medium size businesses and are responsible and impacted by loss of use and loss of data caused by natural disasters, such as Harvey.

Thankfully, most all of our clients' heeded our earlier suggestions about how to prepare for a hurricane.  They had us back up their data, raised their equipment up from the floors and disconnected power.  Some even asked us to verify their cloud backups.  These are all excellent ways to protect your company data.  But I'd like to ask you to think beyond protection. Think about business continuity.  Think about accessibility to your programs and data during and after disasters.  Because post disaster, yes you'll have your backed up data, but how will you access it if your office, network, and servers have been damaged or are temporarily down.  Where will you load your data and how will you make it functional?  This is where the Cloud comes in.  

First, what is the 'Cloud'?  The Cloud is simply a collection of high powered servers located in a data center which is typically inside a strategically located hardened building with restricted access, backup power generators and multiple hi-speed Internet connections.  Each customers' servers at the data center are logically (and often times physically) separated from others, with their own set of credentials, thereby isolating them from problems other servers in the data center may experience.  

By adding Cloud to your IT infrastructure,  you can be prepared for the next time a disaster takes place.  I can tell you that during Harvey, a lot of managers and owners of businesses were very worried.  During those 6 days of intense rain, I bet a lot of us were thinking, is my office getting flooded?  Is my server going to be ok when I get to my office next week?  Will my phone lines work so my customers/patients can reach me? 

If your critical IT systems are in the Cloud, you wouldn't have to worry about it at all; at least not from an IT perspective.  Here are some of the systems you can have in the Cloud:

  • Phone System:  When you use a hybrid Voice over IP (VoIP) phone system, part of the phone server is in your office, and the rest is in the Cloud.  A VoIP system uses the Internet as its phone lines.  These systems have come a long way in reliability and have very strong features which allow you to automatically route calls to other phone numbers or cell phones based on criteria you set during its configuration.  In case of a disaster, your phones can continue to ring via your cell phones or tablets, and you can even transfer calls just as if you're in the office, thereby giving you uninterrupted connectivity to your customers and vendors.  Make sure you have plenty of backup batteries to charge your cell phones and tablets if your power goes out.
  • Email:  email is one of the most critical systems in today's business. While it used to be common practice to have your email server at the office, it is now advisable to have your email hosted in the cloud.  Microsoft's Office 365 products are reasonably priced for small to medium sized businesses and they function well, even when the power or Internet at your office go out. This allows you to stay connected regardless of any issues at your office.
  • Servers:  Your servers at the office serve multiple roles including providing user access, print services, shared files, and hosting your line of business applications.  In most cases, all of these roles can be moved to servers in the Cloud.  There are some exceptions but in most cases, moving some or all of your servers to the Cloud gives you security, reliability, and continuity for your office.  A lot of software vendors such as QuickBooks and others now offer a cloud version of their software.  These solutions only address one business application.  When considering a move to the Cloud, be sure to consider the complete picture and take all of your systems into account.
  • 4G Hot Spot:  A 4G hot spot is a connectivity tool to the Internet and uses 4G LTE connection, just like your cell phone. With any type of disaster, it is common to lose Internet connectivity or power at the office.  Plan ahead and obtain a hot spot either from your cell phone provider or from your IT company.  A hot spot can connect you to the Internet when your primary Internet line goes down. It can work with backup power if you've invested in one and provides connectivity to your data in the cloud during and after a disaster.

I can tell you from personal experience, that having all of our applications and data in the Cloud was a huge relief during hurricane Harvey.  We were operational and answering calls from Day 1, during Harvey's peak, even though we were not able to physically reach our office.  If you have any questions about whether the Cloud is an effective solution for your business, just send us an inquiry and we'll be happy to take a look, and make recommendations.

Best Regards!
Ash Pirwani