“Always on, always available” – This is what is required of retailers today. Customers need constant access to products and services regardless of the time of day. To shop online – from anywhere and anytime, is now standard in retail. Ironically, as per a recent global report from Vanson Bourne, commissioned by Veeam Software, the retail sector is the least prepared of all industries to meet the requirements of data availability, backup and recovery – something that is critical to the industry. According to the report, a large number of retailers today have substandard solutions for backup and recovery, and the sector as a whole is exposed to potential downtime. This is undoubtedly the same scenario in the UAE as well.
Whether companies sell online, manage card payments or manage a warehouse, any form of downtime cripples the business. The cost of downtime for a large company is more than 2 million dollars per hour in lost productivity, labour costs to fix the problem and revenue loss. If we consider that an average downtime lasts for about five hours, it is easy to see why companies must be able to recover data almost immediately in order to avoid losses running into tens of millions of dollars. Moreover, the risk of damage to reputation is a huge consideration and is very often difficult to measure in pure financial terms.
Retailers in UAE today need to ensure that their company’s e-commerce platforms have reliable backup and recovery solutions that help avoid downtime. The tools are available, but it’s not just a matter of technology. It is as much about putting procedures in place. The need to educate the IT department on these issues should not be underestimated. It is all too often that companies have sophisticated backup solutions in place, but do not have clear processes for the IT organization to effectively use them. Gregg Petersen, Regional Director, Middle East and SAARC, Veeam Software recommends four best practices that give retailers an insight into effective backup and recovery systems that will ensure an ‘always on, always available business’:
Follow the 3-2-1 rule
For comprehensive data protection, organizations should have three copies of the data, stored on two different kinds of media, with one of them stored offsite.
This means that in addition to your primary date, you should have at least two more backups as having more copies of your data reduces risk of losing the data during a disaster. In terms of storing the data, you should keep the copies of your data on at least two different storage types (such as internal hard disk drives and removable storage media like tapes, external hard drives, CDs, etc) or on two internal hard disk drives in different locations. Finally, while storing the data on different media is important and a good start, it really isn’t a good idea to keep your external storage device in the same room as your production storage in case of a catastrophe like a fire. It is prudent to physically separate the copies and keep at least one offsite (cloud being a viable option). This simple 3-2-1 rule is a reliable solution to keep the data intact.
When a backup is made, there is always a chance that it is damaged and will not recover when needed. To that end, it is incumbent up on organizations to introduce regular testing in to their protocol. Testing is not only necessary for validating the recoverability of backups but as importantly, testing patches or application updates in a production-like sandbox environment before rolling them out into production can also ensure that these application patches or upgrades will perform as expected and that the business will not suffer more downtime than expected.
In addition to introducing robust testing procedures, it is also important that company employees are educated on and know what procedures to apply in the event of a shutdown and subsequent recovery.
Bridge the availability gap
Many companies today are building modern datacenters and investing in server virtualization, modern storage applications and cloud-based services, in pursuit of higher speeds, more efficient use of existing resources and possible cost savings. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the irony is that many areas of the data centre still rely on legacy infrastructure and technologies which inhibit the network from functioning at optimal levels and leads to data loss, longer recovery times, unreliable data protection, a lack of transparency and the inability to analyze IT traffic. Compounding matters is the fact that today, businesses are facing new demands from end users including 24/7 access to data and applications and no patience for downtime or data loss, all this while grappling an exponential growth in data at about 30-50% per year.
This opens up an availability gap between the requirements of an always-on infrastructure, and IT’s ability to effectively deliver availability. In fact, 82% of CIOs say there is a gap between the level of availability they provide and what end users demand.
It is therefore important to prioritize all programmes and investments which bridge or eliminate the ‘availability’ gap and reduce the business risk associated with downtime.
Practice Increasing Speed of Recovery
Every stoppage, even if it only lasts a couple of hours, translates to financial loss for the company, not to mention damage to reputation. An ideal recovery target should be set at less than 15 minutes for all applications, without compromising quality and functionality. In parallel with being risk-aware and engaging in proactive surveillance, you have to have systems in place that are capable of speedy recovery and should regularly test these capabilities in a production-like test environment.
Retail is perhaps the most dynamic industry and arguably leads the pack when it comes to leveraging technology to drive business. Technologies like digitization and big data have enabled retail organizations to offer omni-channel e-commerce, targeted offers and conduct real-time analysis of consumer behavior.
However, we are in the age of the ‘Always On’ business and this is definitely true for the retail sector. While offering e-commerce and targeted offers is great, it is the ability to provide customers with 24/7 access to data and applications from anywhere in the world that will separate the successful retail organizations from the not-so-successful ones. This new reality requires a robust IT infrastructure and the retail industry needs to adapt today, lest it perish tomorrow.