How Retailers Can Take a Proactive Approach to Data Recovery

This year, North American uniform rental and linen supplier AmeriPride Services will celebrate 125 years of business. And it owes much of its success to keeping pace with technology advances.

By incorporating new technology such as RFID chips for tracking uniforms and telematics technology in delivery vehicles, and regularly updating its IT infrastructure, the company is among the most technologically advanced textile services providers in the industry.

Today, AmeriPride has turned its attention to improving its customer experience by developing a centralized disaster recovery program to protect its data. With all the crazy weather patterns occurring – from tornadoes and earthquakes to hurricanes and winter storms – such preparation to handle a potential disaster is a strategic and savvy business practice for retailers.

That’s because the costs of unplanned IT downtime are staggering. A recent research study estimated the cost likely will be more than $5,000 per minute—or more than $300,000 per hour, according to a report from Emerson Network Power. A follow-up study released in 2013 found that 17% of respondents figured they would lose more than $500,000 per hour with another 6% estimating the cost of such outages would top $1 million per hour.

Four Things To Look for in a Disaster Recovery Program

To initiate the process, merchants must look ahead and begin preparing. For AmeriPride, this proved to be challenging since its data was scattered across 45 data centers in its 45 branches. But by centralizing its infrastructure and partnering with disaster recovery provider SunGard Availability Services to manage those operations and provide expertise, AmeriPride created a disaster recovery program that is flexible, scalable and didn’t require additional hardware or IT staff.

When seeking out a disaster recovery program, retailers should seek to develop one that:

Works with a changing IT infrastructure. AmeriPride, for example, was in the midst of centralizing operations and also undergoing a major infrastructure upgrade. Its service provider had the experience and expertise to assess the situation and move swiftly to deliver the critical disaster recovery program.

Fills in gaps in disaster recovery and business continuity. Look for a vendor that delivers support 24/7; offers a full suite of support options and a data center with redundant networks, communications links and power supplies; and helps address any number of regulatory and compliance challenges.

Is highly reliable. Any loss of data poses severe financial implications, so retailers need a solution that tests everything in a contract with a vendor, including all servers, platforms and applications. Look for a provider that doesn’t handle production services and disaster recovery on the same equipment, which could prove a problem during a disaster. Also, choose a vendor with a strong service-level agreement to back up its IT recovery services.

Provides valuable expertise. Most retailers have a very small IT staff that, typically, is involved in multiple projects. Seek a vendor with a highly skilled disaster recovery technical staff that can assist with test exercises and preparations for several potential disasters. Determine what types of disasters the vendor has handled, what type of recoveries it performed and the average size of the customer it helped recover.

By using an outside partner rather than deploying a disaster recovery plan in-house, a retailer can put a disaster recovery plan into place much quicker. AmeriPride, for example, was able to put its plan in place in six-to-seven months.

A Retailer’s disaster recovery Plan Should Reflect Its Needs

AmeriPride’s managed recovery program reflects the specific needs of its business and the requirements of its applications. Its managed disaster recovery host assumes full accountability for recovery management and assigns a dedicated service delivery manager to the company, who acts as an extension of the company’s team. This pares the cost and time required to send staff to a recovery site.

The service delivery manager also has expert knowledge of the recovery program, including the workflow, timeline and communication procedures. A single point of contact, the manager coordinates test planning, test execution, test monitoring, post-test reporting and post-test reviews. During an actual recovery, the manager would serve as the liaison with the retailer.

AmeriPride began to reap benefits even before the disaster recovery plan was deployed fully. Its vendor uncovered gaps in the documentation that AmeriPride used for disaster recovery, and helped it fill them in. Good documentation is critical to a disaster recovery plan because you can’t assume that people will be available or know what to do when a disaster strikes.

Its vendor developed AmeriPride’s documentation and will handle the actual recovery and execution of the plan in the event of a disaster. With the help of its managed host, AmeriPride assembled a more efficient IT infrastructure, including tiered applications, data and backup.

AmeriPride has tested the disaster recovery plan a number of times and has been very pleased with the results. In the event of a disaster, the company knows its managed disaster recovery host would be able to recover for it – which is what every retailer using a similar model should know.

Jeff Baken is Data Center Manager for AmeriPride Services Inc. Its managed disaster recovery host is SunGard Availability Services. 

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