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Thinking outside the (in)box

Paul Wood | Sept. 22, 2009
Email outages occur whether youre prepared or not, and more often than not, it strikes when youre right in the midst of meeting a deadlineand youre stumped.

It is never too late to review and update a business continuity plan (BCP) and this should be done regularly. However, one part of a BCP that is often overlooked is e-mail continuity. Typically, risk mitigation focuses solely on the threats and risks from cyberspace and how to prevent them rather than the aspect of keeping e-mail up and running in the event of an outage caused by a natural disaster or cyber attack.

With a population of about 55,000, the Marshall Islands are served by a single Internet service provider. Although most businesses wouldnt opt to rely on a single service provider if given the choice, having a solid e-mail continuity service in place that offers continuous e-mail availability and disaster recovery in addition to an e-mail security plan can provide a seamless and reliable backup system should unexpected outages occur.

The Radicati Group estimates that there were 1.2 billion e-mail users worldwide in October 2007 with 516 million business e-mail inboxes. On average, users sent 38 e-mail messages per day and received 93 e-mail messages per day. Of those 93, an average of 18 e-mails included an attachment. E-mail is so commonplace that it is easy to forget its benefits, which include:

Collaboration: A one-to-many medium, e-mail makes it easier to coordinate teams and reach consensus. People use their inbox as a memory aid and document store.

Communication: E-mail is asynchronous, meaning it allows users to respond when ready and time-shift communications to suit individual schedules.

Coordination: Arranging meetings and projects is simplified by e-mail, especially by using meeting invitation tools, as opposed to phone.

Common carrier: E-mail is universal, allowing users to do business anywhere in the world.

Convenience: Mobile e-mail devices such as the BlackBerry, remote access and laptop PCs make e-mail flexible to place and time.

Because e-mail is such a critical business process, it cannot fail. Without it, it is difficult for business to continue as usual. Most organisations rely on e-mail to communicate with customers and without it, they risk damaging their reputation and customer relationships.

Today, more and more e-mail is being sent and attachment sizes are increasing, which means continuity systems must be easily scalable. Managing an e-mail continuity system in-house can be an additional challenge as it requires hefty upfront capital purchases and ongoing maintenance. It can also require additional cumbersome hardware to add to crowded server rooms and a lack of SLAs or guarantees.

What smart actions should businesses take when creating a business continuity plan?

Step 1: Identify the key risks to the organisation: Decide which are likely to have the greatest impact on the organisation and address those first.


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