An accident waiting to happen

Posted on 1 Dec 2011 by The Manufacturer

Manufacturers are worryingly unprepared for real-world disasters, finds Malcolm Wheatley.

Nuts and bolts

Read this article to:

  • Understand how hardware failure and system outage are far more likely than floods and fires
  • Learn that most manufacturers aren’t legally or contractually obliged to have a disaster recovery plan in place
  • Appreciate how many manufacturers still rely on backup tapes to mitigate against the risk of data loss

Are British manufacturers in danger from the ‘wrong kind of disaster’ – to paraphrase the well-known excuse once offered when an unseasonal snow fall paralysed southern England?

That’s the worrying inference drawn from a recent survey examining approaches taken to disaster recovery in a number of industries across the UK and Europe.

Just like the hapless railway managers, many manufacturers are all too aware that natural disasters happen. But with their plans based on assumptions about relatively rare interruptions to business – such floods and fires – they are leaving themselves vulnerable to far more likely occurrences: power outages, accidental damage to telecommunications links, and hardware failure.

Kelly Ferguson, Director of Marketing, Europe, EMC

“Three out of every four manufacturers aren’t confident that they could fully recover if they were hit by disaster,” sums up Kelly Ferguson, director of marketing for Europe within storage giant EMC’s backup recovery systems division.

The call to action

The headline figures are certainly dramatic. Drawn from interviews with 1,750 IT decision makers in private and public sector organisations, ranging from 250 to 3000 employees and across several industries, they paint a disturbing picture.

One in five manufacturers have suffered data loss in the last 12 months for instance, with half of those respondents citing hardware failure as the most common reason for data loss.

Over 40% of manufacturers judged those incidents of data loss serious enough to warrant subsequently changing their procedures for IT systems backup and disaster recovery, with almost exactly as many increasing their expenditure on IT systems backup and disaster recovery as a result.

Far more common – roughly doubly so – were incidents of systems downtime, typically resulting, not just in system outage, but also a loss of employee productivity. Again, the most commonly-cited cause was hardware failure, with 62% of manufacturers reporting that hardware failure was the leading cause of downtime. And, as with data loss, incidents of systems downtime were typically followed by a review of procedures, although fewer manufacturers followed this up with actual expenditure.

That said, it is clear that inadequacies in IT systems backup and disaster recovery planning lie behind significant numbers of these data loss and downtime incidents. Less than half of manufacturers – 46% – are obligated by either their insurance policy or their regulatory regime to have a disaster recovery plan in place.

What’s more, almost a third of manufacturers – 28% – feel they are not spending enough on backup and recovery systems. Roughly four in ten manufacturers use backup tapes for their primary storage, incurring the costs of transporting, storing, and testing them for the purposes of disaster recovery.

“Probably one of the more surprising responses is that one in ten responding companies are physically having backup tapes taken home by someone for their ‘offsite’ copy,” says EMC’s Ferguson. “It’s an approach to backup and recovery planning that doesn’t really instil a great deal of confidence.”

Recognising this perhaps, some 85% of manufacturers say that they want to move away from the use of tape for IT systems backup and disaster recovery. Why? Speed of restoration is one factor, cited by 33% of responding manufacturers. And the time taken by tape-based back up is another – a reason cited by 37% of responding manufacturers and reflecting the burgeoning data volumes that many businesses are seeing.

It’s a picture, in short, that should clearly act as a clarion call for action.

“We want to instil a sense of urgency for companies to look proactively at disaster recovery,” says Ferguson. “A disaster of epic proportions does not have to occur for a business to suffer disastrous business consequences. In other words, prepare today for what you can’t predict or control tomorrow.”

That said, it’s still a picture from which manufacturers can draw some comfort. The report entitled; European Disaster Recovery Survey 2011: Data today gone tomorrow, how well companies are poised for IT Recovery, published in late November makes it clear that in a number of areas, manufacturers are more prepared for disaster than companies in several other areas of commerce and government.

Among the sectors surveyed for instance, manufacturing and health care were the least likely to have lost data – roughly half as likely as higher-risk sectors such as telecommunications and media. And more than any other industry, manufacturing is more likely to, not only review IT procedures for backup and recovery, but also to increase the spending on IT after a data loss.

Room for improvement

Even so, it’s clear that overall standards in the manufacturing industry in respect of IT systems backup and disaster recovery provide ample scope for improvement.

“It’s very common to find that nobody really thinks about systems backup and disaster recovery until a disaster actually occurs,” says Paul Marchant Smith, technical services manager at glass manufacturer Solaglas, a division of European glass and building materials giant Saint-Gobain. “Attitudes are generally reactive, rather than proactive – until actual disaster focuses the mind.”

Indeed, Mark Burridge, IT project manager at building products manufacturer ITW Construction Products, believes it is worries over the adequacy of IT systems backup and disaster recovery issues that are helping to drive companies to cloud-based enterprise applications, rather than on-premise solutions.

“Having other people responsible for delivering systems up-time is a big incentive,” he says. “There’s a feeling that the more a business can do to lower the internal systems backup and disaster recovery burden, the better.”

Yet according to an October 2011 report from analysts IDC – entitled Generating Proven Business Value with EMC Next Generation Backup and Recovery – the returns from adopting a modern, best practice approach to IT systems backup and disaster recovery are considerable, and far outweigh the costs.

In fact, the IDC analysis showed a return on investment of 450% over three years, equivalent to an average payback period of seven months. Better still, respondents reduced their restore times from 17 to 2 hours on average, with backup windows typically cut from 11 to 3 hours. Savings on IT staff time and tape costs were also considerable.

In short, sums up EMC’s Ferguson, there is a better way to carry out IT systems backup and disaster recovery planning.

“Manufacturers can be better prepared for real-world disasters – and save money into the bargain,” she notes. “What’s not to like about that?”