London 2012 Olympics: Aim for gold with DR, business continuity plans

With 80 days to go before the London 2012 Olympic Games begin, IT pros must review and test their contingency, disaster recovery and business continuity strategies.

IT teams have less than 80 days to review their contingency, disaster recovery and business continuity strategies and prep their data centres to minimise disruptions during the London 2012 Olympics Games.

They also have to test and validate their business continuity strategies prior to the event, which kicks off in the capital on July 27, 2012, and continues right through to August 12, 2012.

IT challenges during London 2012 Olympics
Throughout the Games, using services such as traffic management, hospitality booking services, broadcast services, social media and video services will strain the network infrastructure. One of the biggest risks to businesses operating in the Olympics Route Network or the Olympics “contagion zone” is to ensure that their own systems are not affected during the event.

London 2012 to bring network overload, disruptions to London businesses

How businesses can plan disaster recovery, business continuity and contingency strategies to minimise disruptions.

IT administrators’ disaster recovery and business continuity plans must include strategies for foreseen risks such as network overload, connectivity issues, en masse remote employees, securing remote access to business applications, remote data centre management and unforeseen risks such as potential terror attacks.

Work patterns will change. The UK government’s official Olympics guidance advises businesses, especially those operating in the London area, to review the work patterns of their staff and to reduce strain on the infrastructure so that Olympic traffic -- vehicular, people, communication and information -- can be accommodated.

This type of request highlights where priorities are to be placed during the Olympic Games. With power suppliers and data service providers prioritising the needs of the Olympic Village, other businesses in the surrounding area are expected to play their part and prepare their IT facilities to cope with potential disruptions.  

Challenges facing IT teams include:
• Systems essentially designed for office-based access should be extended to allow remote access to all employees.
• New pressures placed on security procedures as staff members use their own systems and devices to access business applications.
• Additional traffic across public and private networks during the Games especially in locations that already have high communication demand.

Data centre disruptions
The Olympic organisers have contracts in place to ensure that their information and communication systems, reporting procedures, access to events and underlying infrastructure will not fail.

IT providers as well as energy and utilities providers to the Olympics will be under public scrutiny. If any shortcomings or service disruptions develop, these communication and infrastructure system suppliers will be exposed globally. 

Suppliers will have to prioritise the needs of the Olympic contractors over their other business clientele. IT teams operating around the Olympic Village and those businesses using the same power grid as the Olympics to cool their data centres must take these factors into consideration while chalking out their contingency, disaster recovery and business continuity activities.

For instance, IT managers should talk to their energy suppliers in advance if they will need more energy services during the Olympics. If a supplier cannot meet their demands, then they should have a backup plan in place. For instance, they should plan to switch off a less-critical IT facility to power a more critical unit.

Planning, testing and validating disaster recovery and business continuity strategies
IT teams in London-based businesses should make it a priority to review their business continuity, disaster recovery and contingency plans to ensure minimal disruption to day-to-day business activities and customer services.

Reality has demonstrated that reviewing plans is the first stage, followed by testing the contingency plans. IT pros must understand that although their existing DR and data centre contingency plans and activities have been completed to set standards -- such as ISO 22301, ISO 22313, BS 25999, ISO 27001 and ITIL -- this does not mean that they are foolproof.

Testing frequencies are always a problem, and completing tests within set time frames is an even greater challenge, which often leaves the testing of plans incomplete. That’s why IT must carry out the tests and reviews as soon as possible so that they have time to assess the outcomes and ensure that the results meet with goals to service the business.

Priority is usually assigned to systems that are critical for day-to-day operations, then to those that support business activities, and finally to support applications. Obviously, the first two categories need to be addressed first. 

Areas of the system infrastructure supporting these applications and business processes include:
• Web services, supporting external and internal processes.
• Email services, to which every business is critically dependent.
• Server racks which need to support flexible deployment or realignment of resources, especially within virtualised environments.
• Storage resources, secured and available to deliver access to the data required by applications wherever they are running within virtualised server platforms.
• The data centre fabric which must be able to support virtualised servers and ensure access to all storage resources and may also include file-based storage resources connected to the LAN.
• Desktop services which may be deployed as desktop virtualisation or by using other connectivity architectures and which must be secure.

Other areas must be considered within the data centre as well to ensure that recovery times can be consistently delivered in case of system failures. 

These include:
• Power supplies and standby power services.
• Maintenance services that can access the data centre within required time frames to diagnose and remedy issues.
• Third-party suppliers that provide business continuity services in time of need. The ease and timeliness of migrating data and applications to alternative data centres also needs to be tested.
• Unplanned after-hours work. While many millions of us will be enjoying the thrills of the Velodrome, the swimming, equestrian and other athletic events, data centre and infrastructure managers must ensure that services are maintained for the business to operate at all times. The demands may be greater than what they anticipate.

There are always signs when systems are under strain that may lead to operational difficulties. Outward signs include a slowing down of response times and difficulty in accessing the right data immediately. 

IT professionals must ensure that there will be no surprises and no unexpected consequences as a result of the additional demands of the Olympics.

London 2012 Olympics as DR proving ground
IT pros’ actions and strategies in building a flexible data centre will be put to test during this year’s Olympic Games. Reviewing the current environment and testing it before the event begins and assessing all the outcomes post-Olympics will help to set the course for future DR strategies.

Planning and testing the business continuity activities will highlight hotspots that need immediate attention and areas that can be deployed later as part of the on-going programme. Using automated tools will help measure impacts and identify action points whether within server complexes and racks and storage arrays or across the fabric and networks.

Disaster recovery, business continuity and contingency planning during the London 2012 Olympics is appropriate so that systems and processes can be invoked if or when systems start to fail. Being certain that everyone understands the processes will ensure minimal negative impact on the business.

Hamish Macarthur is the founder of Macarthur Stroud International a research and consulting organisation specialising in the technology markets and a regular contributor to

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