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By 3 August 2023 | Categories: feature articles

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By Bertrandt Delport, Country Host, BT South Africa

South Africa experienced a staggering 173 days of loadshedding between January and June 2023, testing the capacity of businesses and organisations to keep the lights on to the limits. The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) recently made headlines by announcing it has been working on contingency plans in case of possible grid collapse. This made many businesses put their own network contingency plans under a magnifying glass.

Though the SARB has indicated that a blackout in South Africa is unlikely, the possibility can’t be ruled out. As most business operations depend heavily on IT and digital infrastructure, even a few hours of service disruption can have a devastating impact. In the event of a total blackout, the burning question is: How long could we stay connected?

It’s a rather complicated question to address given all the considerations at play, including the complexity of IT and communications networks and the unpredictability of (particularly) unplanned, extended outages. Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Recovery (BCP/DR) capabilities are therefore more relevant now than ever before. Companies may be realising that their existing plans and procedures may not be adequate for this particular scenario.

Having the right capabilities in place before a disruptive event does require some predictive planning – and developing or revamping a business continuity strategy can be a complex undertaking. At the very least, this process must involve assessing the business’ current resilience and recovery capabilities against recognised industry best practice and relevant standards.

To ensure resilience against the loss of grid power, businesses should ask:

  1. Does my network service provider have multiple back-ups to the redundant systems around power, and multiple back-ups to the Uninterruptable Power Systems (UPS’s)in place? How long can the back-up power solutions keep the data centre up?
  2. Are the data centres the business relies on equipped with built-in business continuity plans and backed by Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that deliver lower operational risk, increased redundancy in design, increased security, and greater resilience?
  3. Are power protection measures in place, such as Static Switch protection at multiple redundant Power Distribution Units (PDUs) and on-line UPS support systems, 48V DC power systems and generators?

While it is unlikely that any organisation will be able to fully mitigate the impact of total grid failure, a careful understanding of the appropriate people, processes, technology, information and supplies needed to deliver mission critical activities in such an event is crucial to minimising its disruptive impact.

Plan for “after the fact”: Disaster-recovery-as-a-service

Organisations must also consider their recovery capabilities following a disaster like a grid collapse. As cloud computing and cloud-based services become more pervasive, businesses are increasingly turning to cloud-based disaster recovery solutions. Part of the rationale for this move is due to the scalability and cost benefits of moving to cloud based services, as more traditional models of disaster recovery are becoming increasingly unsustainable – from both a cost and people/operational overhead perspective.

When moving to cloud based services, and while examining these services’ resilience against power outages, businesses must also take a considered approach and ensure they do not compromise on their disaster recovery solutions. For instance, businesses should avoid applying one model across all applications, wherever possible.

Rather, businesses should look for a disaster recovery model that is flexible and fit-for-purpose in terms of cost versus process requirements – such as Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPO). The disaster recovery model should provide the business with the ability to respond on-demand to all workload protection and recovery needs with a single, easy-to-manage technology.

Business continuity management, service availability and the ongoing assessment of business risk remain essential activities for a business operating in any industry. Though grid collapse is considered an unlikely scenario, planned outages in the form of loadshedding are expected to remain a reality in South Africa for some time. And this is by no means the only risk for which businesses need to be prepared - the list of potential threats to businesses continues to grow in numbers, severity and complexity.

Partnering with a reliable and trusted partner uniquely positions a business to take advantage of a mix of business continuity products, solutions and services capabilities that are carefully designed – and that can be deployed to support a holistic business continuity strategy to underpin the business’ long-term objectives.

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