Before COVID-19, thinking about IT disaster preparedness might have had many of us thinking of how the network would be impacted by natural disasters — such as fires, floods, storms, earthquakes — or perhaps something like a wide-scale power outage, or even an explosion. Now, we have to broaden our definition to include disasters that might not impact the physical world or our facilities but that still leave us operating in a changed environment — one that requires rapid responses and flexibility. We need disaster recovery plans that ensure the safety of all employees and limit downtime so that production continues, no matter the source of the disaster. The key is proactivity. Here are seven recommendations for necessary IT solutions to ensure your facility’s network and technology will withstand any disaster.
Episode 18: COVID-19 Pushes IT Disaster Preparedness Plans to a New Level
Roger Sands, CEO and co-founder of Wyebot, shares his expertise on disaster preparedness.
As you prepare your facility for a worst-case scenario, providing remote access should be one of your top priorities. While it isn’t possible for manufacturing companies to pivot to a 100% work-from-home plan, it’s smart to recognize that situations might dictate certain employees transitioning to telecommuting. This could be because they are sick, because they are working on shifts, or because they are unable to reach the facility. Consider providing resources for remote network management as well as remote work.
- Network Management
Many IT teams are responsible for multiple locations. If they can’t travel to all facilities in person, there needs to be a plan in place that allows them to remotely view and troubleshoot the wired and wireless network ecosystem. The easier it is for them to identify a problem, the quicker that problem will be resolved. Work with a Wi-Fi assurance solution that provides 100% visibility and remote access. It’s a great idea to implement something before there’s a disaster so that you can be sure that whatever solution you’ve chosen fits your needs and that IT has time to familiarize themselves with the solution while operating under normal — not high-stress — conditions. Don’t worry if that isn’t a possibility for you. There are tools that offer plug-and-play capability, meaning they are easy to install and are up and running in minutes.
- Remote Work for Employees
While teleworking can be a great productivity saver, it does come with its own challenges. Use these tips to successfully transition to telework when necessary.
1. Make sure you have plans in place to offer employees remote tech support.
2. Help employees download any and all necessary software onto their computers before they head home.
3. For employees who need access to on-premises applications and servers, monitor the network to make sure it is equipped to handle hundreds of employees suddenly logging in remotely. Make sure these employees know how to access on-premises services through a VPN. Have an assurance platform that can run synthetic network tests against the network to notify IT if performance is off or connection is intermittent.
4. Provide everyone with any necessary training and a list of the proper procedures for things like backing up files, accessing external servers, and connecting to secure sites.
We know that this is always on your mind, and perhaps never more so than in a disaster recovery situation. To prepare your network to be strong during an emergency, you’ll want to regularly review security protocols and schedule security testing to run on a continual basis.
At all times, you need to know who has access to the network, what they are accessing, and if any security parameters have changed.
When it comes to testing the network, look for a tool that performs port scans, can be scheduled to run, and will automatically alert IT if there are any failed tests. Scheduling the tests to run automatically decreases the chance of there being any hidden issues that could negatively affect your network security.
Cloud-based services are viewed as a viable and secure option for many technology needs. Using the cloud can make it easier to update and sync files across departments and facilities, enhancing communication and providing faster response times. The cloud can be accessed from anywhere as long as someone has an internet connection, making it an ideal solution for people forced to work from home or who are unable to travel. These as-a-service technologies might not be appropriate for every aspect of your business, but implementing them where possible can be very helpful, whether in a disaster recovery situation or not.
Network Health Monitoring and High Availability Technology
High availability (HA) refers to technology needed to ensure business continuity in the face of IT disruptions. These solutions minimize downtime and data loss by implementing real-time data replication, initiating a failover system where the HA technology can assume the role of your production system in the case of a disaster.
While HA technology plays an important role directly after a disaster, network health monitoring should be an ongoing practice to provide assurance that, bar an external disaster, the network is optimized and reliable. As a best practice, you should use a monitoring or analytics solution that works 24/7 and identifies every piece of the network: hardware, software, the RF environment, and connected devices. The monitoring and analytics solution should automatically capture all data and identify any current or suspected problems. Having “eyes” on the network at all times frees up IT personnel to focus on other mission critical, daily activities with confidence the network is optimized unless they are otherwise alerted.
In addition, facilities should implement scheduled networkwide testing. Network tests provide information on the performance of different parts of a network, including servers, internal and external website connectivity, devices, and authentication systems. Remember that while tests can be run manually, scheduling them frees up IT resources and minimizes the chances of there being any surprises that could cause network degradation and downtime. Look for a testing tool that will automatically send alerts if any test fails and provides resolution recommendations.
The sooner IT is alerted to issues, the quicker the mean time to resolution (MTTR), resulting in greatly reduced downtime. The more proactive you can be in ensuring network health, the better for all your wireless and wired connected services, applications, and devices. The last thing you need during a disaster or emergency is a rundown or otherwise unhealthy network. Practice proactive, constant monitoring so you can upgrade your hardware and software as needed to ensure your network will always provide the strongest service possible, no matter the conditions.
Energy Consumption Monitoring
Manufacturing facilities can also work with IoT solutions that perform energy generation and consumption monitoring. Some solutions provide detailed insights into consumption at the manufacturing unit and building level and will also identify the room or even the individual machine or product. The IoT monitoring allows you to continuously gather analytics on energy consumption, making it easier to predict future energy needs and decide when/if equipment needs to be replaced. While these solutions monitor the industrial side of your plants or factories, your network health monitoring and analytics solution will analyze the health of the IoT device, ensuring that it is working as desired and gathering the proper analytics. Working together, these solutions support a facilitywide look at the health of all necessary technology and equipment.
While many of these best practices test your network and facilities for you, providing valuable information on real-time network health and performance throughout a typical business day, it’s just as important to understand how your network has changed over time. Hindsight is 20/20, and that’s as true for network optimization as it is for anything else. One of the best ways to optimize your network and prepare for a worst-case scenario is to know how user activity has changed and what you can expect in the near future. Historical analytics are your secret weapon.
These solutions automatically store data from the last day, week, or month, and some will provide graphs for a visual representation of network change. Reviewing historical analytics provides you with the details that you need to understand how your network is being used over time and where it may be necessary to make infrastructure updates. This data is incredibly helpful for capacity and budget planning and helps you ensure that your network is not only optimized for today’s use, but for future use as well.
In a disaster response situation, you want as few things to worry about as possible. Use these best practices to optimize your facility’s wireless network, ensuring that it will provide robust and secure service regardless of what is happening in the world. Having a wireless network you can trust gives you the foundation you need to promote safety and productivity for all employees, now and in the future.