When the Lights Go Down

by Amy H. Blankstein

Y2K has long since come and gone, but who says a new millennium approach is the only occasion when you should prepare for the unthinkable? Hurricanes, typhoons, and, as Californians are finding out, even run-of-the-mill power outages and brownouts can lead to serious interruptions of business processes. Many businesses depend on outside help to run their operations, and many are wondering whether the companies that supply these services, such as application service providers
(ASPs) that store businesses’ data and software and the Internet service providers (ISPs) that host their Web sites, can stay connected in the event of an electrical meltdown.

According to security experts, the majority of the industry is plugged in and prepared to stay that way. “Hosting facilities and ISPs tend to have their own infrastructure in place,” says Paul Robertson, director of risk assessment at Reston, Va.-based TruSecure, Corp., a provider of Internet security assurance services. “You’ll find that greater than 90 to 95 of smaller outfits, and almost 100 percent of the big guys will have, not only clean filtered power at the facilities they use to host — important because it takes care of a whole host of issues, including brown-outs, surges, and spikes — they’ll have some sort of battery power and generator system.” In addition, almost every hosting facility has a contract with a fuel company, so that if there’s a natural disaster or a large-scale outage, they’ll have a guaranteed number of gallons of fuel per day to keep the generator system going. “For companies whose lifeblood is making sure that things are always up, it’s a known thing, it’s a regular thing, and it’s a part of doing business,” Robertson adds.

Many hosting facilities and ISPs also keep real time backups of their data and systems in multiple locations in case one facility gets wiped out. Epoch Internet, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based ISP, for instance, hosts its operations at facilities in Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, and Dallas, Tex. ASPs, on the other hand, generally don’t own the infrastructure to host their own services, but contract with third party hosting facilities to house their data and systems in multiple locations.

But natural disasters aren’t the only spoilers in town. “Surprisingly enough, the ASP industry is more prepared for natural disasters than for software disasters,” says Pavel Slavin, director of the Security Committee for the ASP Consortium and director of Global Systems engineering for Arugs Systems Group Inc. “With natural disasters, the only thing you need to do is open two offices, one in Europe, one in California; no single natural disaster is going to shut down both of them. But if you have a hacker breaking into an ASP’s services, that’s going to spread across all the computers simultaneously.”

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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