Hurricane Sandy's Effects on IT Operations to Ripple Across Nation

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-10-29

Hurricane Sandy's Effects on IT Operations to Ripple Across Nation

Lower Manhattan has already been evacuated. Cities along the East Coast of the U.S. are being shut down, and employees are being told to stay home. Meanwhile, the slowly, but steadily approaching Hurricane Sandy massive storm has been bringing heavy rain and high winds to the heavily populated Northeast Corridor since Sunday.

The storm is destined to impact a swath of territory more than a thousand miles wide. Within Hurricane Sandy’s impact area, millions of people and businesses will lose power. So will communications networks, wireless services, phone companies and in some cases, government agencies.

Right now a glance at Hurricane Sandy’s track can be deceiving. That track traced on all the maps doesn’t tell the full story. That’s simply the potential path for the center of the storm. The effects will spread far beyond that relatively small area.

If your company is located in the area that the hurricane will affect, you may still have time to do some last-minute things to get ready. If you’re outside the area, you can pat yourself for making wise geographical choices this time. But you may still feel the effects.

First the things you can do now. Make sure your employees are briefed on your company’s emergency plans and on what you expect them to do during and after the storm. Make sure you have current cell phone and landline phone numbers. If you have employees who absolutely must be at the work site, find a way to get them to work, and make sure you have a way to take care of their families. You won’t have effective workers if they’re worried about their loved ones.

Next, make sure you test your emergency backups. If you have alternate networks, then test them. Since we’ve had a lot of warning leading up to this storm, you should have already tested your backup generators, but if you haven’t, do it now while you still have power. While you’re at it, check your fuel levels.

Meanwhile, if you have an off-site backup service, confirm that they have a presence outside of the Northeast U.S., and start backing up your critical data if you haven’t already done this. If you don’t have an off-site backup service, this is the time to either set up a service or figure out what you’re going to do with your critical data. Maybe you can find a bank vault on higher ground.

Hurricane Sandy's Effects on IT Operations to Ripple Across Nation

Once you’re taken care of your data, determine the likelihood that your data center will be adversely affected. If you’re on a high floor of a substantial building, and you don’t have exterior windows, the chances are pretty good that your data center won’t be destroyed.

If your data center is in the basement, figure out whether it’s possible to turn off and move your critical servers, storage and infrastructure to a higher level. If it’s not, start making plans to buy new data center equipment and to restore your data from your offsite backup.

For many companies directly in the storm’s path, the issue isn’t whether their data center will be affected, it’s how badly. You might just lose power or communications. But it might be worse.

But suppose you’re not located in the Mid-Atlantic or the Northeast? You’re probably safe from having your data center taken out (unless some other freak weather event comes along), but you may need to take action anyway. Does your business depend on data centers or cloud services with locations near the U.S. east coast? Even if your cloud services provider has other locations, you need to make sure that your data isn’t located in the area at risk. If it is, now’s the time to get your cloud provider to move your data to another data center.

The other factor that may affect your operations are your own networks. If you depend on the Internet to access data or for customers to access your websites or your data, be aware that a large portion of the network traffic in the U.S. passes through major network hubs in the eastern US. While these network centers are well protected against failure, that doesn’t mean that the networks they feed are equally well connected. You could find major network outages during and after the storm.

Fortunately the Internet was conceived and built to bypass damage even if it’s extensive. But the chances are good that if this happens, you’ll be routed on slower more complex routes. This could make access slower and could impact on your customers. Make sure you’re aware if the storm is affecting your network performance. You may want to warn your customers, other offices or business partners that this is happening.

Finally, whether you’re in the affected area or simply watching from afar, Hurricane Sandy can be a great lesson. First, it explains the necessity of geographical diversity when it comes to looking for cloud or co-location services. In this case New York and Philadelphia may not be far enough apart. Second, Sandy demonstrates the necessity of backup power and offsite data backup as well as the necessity of testing both of them regularly. Finally, this event will demonstrate that a catastrophe can happen anywhere, even where you are. You can’t afford to ignore the possibility.

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