4 Things IT Can Learn From Massachusett’s Record Snowfall

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155402646While, we are used to snow to in New England, the amount and frequency of snowfall in the last month is unprecedented. Since the first of the year, Boston schools have had eight snow days and we have received 61 inches of snow (a record) over the last 30 days and guess what? More is on the way!

Yes, we are buried and the impact is being felt throughout the state as public transportation delays are rampant and snow removal budgets are being blown through. As I pondered this unusual state of affairs, it occurred to me that there are similarities between our snow challenges and the challenges that are faced in IT. Here are four tips for snow and IT management.

Use the right tool

In the world of snow removal having the right tool is critical. A snowblower will do a great job clearing a driveway but will not help you get snow off your roof. (In fact it can actually put snow on your roof! Trust me, I know from experience. J). Similarly, a roof rake is the right tool to clear snow off roofs and hopefully prevent ice dams, but it will not help you clear your walkway. Using the wrong tool can result in extreme frustration and even potentially damage. (Can you imagine a snowblower on your roof?)

In data protection, you must use the right protection technology to align with your application requirements. For example, a mission critical and highly transactional database typically needs advanced availability and recovery technologies to ensure uptime and to minimize data loss in the case of an outage. A traditional nightly backup, while an important solution for long-term retention, does not typically provide the needed SLAs. Clearly there are other applications where a nightly backup is the ideal protection solution. Just like a snowblower and roof rake serve distinctly different purposes, an IT practitioner needs to understand his/her protection and availability tools and ensure that he/she is using the right one for each application.

Prepare for the worst

The weather in New England is rapidly changing and forecasts are inaccurate at best. In the past, we have been forecasted to get hit with the “big one” and received only a couple of inches while other times inconsequential storms end up delivering massive snowfall. You never know what will come and so you need to prepare for the worst. Regardless of whether a dusting or a blizzard is forecasted, you need to be ready with food, gas, water and other necessities.

Data protection challenges are similar. You can rarely forecast an IT outage or estimate its scope before. Thus you need to be prepared for the worst. A complete disaster recovery plan can help you restore operations after a total loss. At the same time, practitioners can also create recovery strategies for mission critical applications to minimize downtime in the case of outtage. This is not to say that you need an individual plan for every single application just your most critical and time sensitive systems.

Testing is critical

My snowblower and I are the primary snow removal system for my family. Without my snowblower I would be in trouble and so prior to every storm, I fully test my mechanical partner to ensure that his fluids (sorry for anthropomorphizing, but Ralph is my friend) are topped off, that all cables and wires are properly connected and that all critical joints are lubricated. These tests have ensured a fruitful decade long relationship between Ralph and myself.

Just like Ralph and I are partners in snow removal, you partner with your protection infrastructure to ensure business operations. And as Ralph gets a checkup before each storm, you should be consistently testing your protection systems to ensure that they are functioning optimally. These tests should include auditing your backups to ensure that all required servers are protected and testing recoveries to ensure that your data is available. Trust me, you don’t want to find out that your backup system was not working after a disaster! I have seen this happen and it is not pretty.

Count on partners

Let’s face it, sometimes problems occur that are completely unexpected and outside the scope of your knowledge. For example, last week, a neighbor’s snowblower died and he realized that it had run out of oil. (He should have reviewing my “Testing is critical” advice.) For those who are not mechanically inclined, running out of oil is catastrophic and results in irreparable motor failure.

Naturally, the failure was in the middle of a big storm and so getting a new snowblower(even if he could find one because they are all out of stock…) was not an option. I happily volunteered Ralph and Ralph has been serving double duty admirably over the last week. (Yet another example of why Ralph is a trusted partner.) My neighbor eventually found a snowblower online which he ordered and it arrived yesterday (coincidently, it was delivered to my house because his driveway was impassable to a delivery truck, but I digress).

Hopefully you have heeded the “Prepared for the worst” and “Testing is critical” tips, but sometimes even with the best preparation things can go bad like they did for my neighbor. In that case, you need a partner you can count on. Critical partners include your backup software provider, your backup hardware vendor, your server vendor, your reseller or even colleagues both within and outside your company. These partnerships can be critical in times of trouble and just like I helped my neighbor battle through his outage, these partners can help you surmount unexpected obstacles.

Summary

In summary, the snow keeps falling with storms due on Friday and Saturday and Ralph continues to be “The Man”. However, these four tips are critical to snow removal success in the Livens household and also to IT.

In many ways, IT’s burden is greater than mine because poor snow removal will result in frustration and perhaps glares from my wife, but the long-term impact is limited. For IT practitioners, the implications of data loss are far reaching and can have massive impacts on corporate reputations and profitability. I encourage your to think through each of these tips and how your organization is implementing.

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