Lessons from Glasgow: Preventing Disaster

24
Jun
Philip Magson

Written by Philip Magson, 24 June 2014

Last month, a fire tore through the Glasgow School of Art's famous Mackintosh Library, destroying a collection of rare books and archives before fire-fighters brought the flames under control.  While the damage to the school was significant, it wasn't as bad as it could have been - and the majority of the iconic  building and its contents were saved thanks to the efforts of the emergency services who put themselves in harm's way to contain the blaze.

Yet, despite the heroic actions of the fire-fighters, the fire still caused a reported £50 million of damage - including artwork which no amount of money will be able to replace or recover. The fire demonstrates just how important it is to have a plan in place to handle disaster when it strikes and, even better, prevent it before it happens. That principle remains the same across almost every sector of the professional world - especially for anyone working with digital information the best way of dealing with a catastrophic loss is to prevent it happening in the first place.

Prepare for anything

The meaning of the word 'disaster', in an IT environment, has changed a lot over the past decade. Today, modern threats, like hackers and viruses, can be just as devastating as fire, flood, hardware failure or even a spilled glass of wine - especially to businesses. In the wake of a disaster, businesses face crippling consequences, standing to lose customers, attract painful publicity and, most significantly, fall behind in a cut-throat marketplace. Disaster recovery plans need to take this into account - and focus not only on the retrieval of lost information, but getting back up to optimal operating speed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Fortunately, when it comes to disaster recovery, the days of constantly backing up work on fragile, limited capacity hard disks are over. Leaps forward in our ability to store information on-site and online, mean that preparing for the worst has never been easier.  Most operating systems now include recovery tools for crashes or other types of disaster while commercial services offer users file recovery options for even the worst kind of damage.

Protection or prevention?

Portable hard-drives and the boom in online cloud storage applications offering terabytes of space mean that businesses can protect themselves from catastrophic losses of information without expending the significant resources and finances of the past. But, like the measures taken to save the Glasgow School of Art, on-site back-up is still only damage limitation in the face of disaster - unfortunately, most users only reach this realisation in the aftermath of a major problem.

As a preventative strategy, by letting users work with, store and back-up documents and other information off-site, cloud-based systems like Google Apps and Microsoft Hosted Exchange essentially eliminate the need for any kind of physical disaster recovery. Cloud systems allow for almost complete business continuity - which is much more than a disaster prevention strategy,  letting users work on and access documents, email, calendars and other virtual information in real-time - from any device, in any part of the world.

Smart strategies

Obviously a wholesale move to the cloud is not necessarily possible for every kind of business. File size, format or even privacy issues may prohibit cloud storage - and the protection it offers in the event of a disaster. With this in mind, on-site and online back-up, as part of a multi-channel approach, remain important options. Disaster recovery doesn't have to be costly, complicated or time-consuming and the most effective way of building it into your business operations is to make it an every-day work process. The cloud gives you that option.

Like Glasgow, Dundee has its own collection of historic artwork held in the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. The collection is priceless and losing it to fire would be just be just as shocking as the Glasgow disaster. That notion got us thinking about the importance of education and awareness when it comes to disaster prevention. Shackleton recently participated in a seminar in Dundee aimed at helping clients think about and draw up disaster recovery plans for their businesses. Our focus was on avoiding problems before they occur, through a variety of preventative measures which included on-site and cloud storage.

The meaning of the word disaster may have changed - but so has the possibility of preventing it. The biggest challenge now lies in finding a strategy that fits your business needs best.

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