Your company's chugging right along, pumping out widgets just-in-time or marketing that special value-added service. And, like nearly every business operating now, you have computers working in tandem to smoothly supply the widgets and services to your customers.
But what happens when Hurricane Hugo's mean cousin blows into town, or when your data center suddenly sprouts an in-house waterfall, or when the local power generator loses its juice? Then what?
Lost production time, canceled shipments, dissatisfied customers and lost money -- that's what. Unless you have a Plan B: a disaster recovery plan, that is.
As businesses depend more and more on computers to generate, store and process information, the necessity of a computer backup plan has gained importance.
If your business relies on a computer's running applications, you'll need some type of backup plan in case of emergencies, says Derrick A. Robinson, national sales manager of LDI Disaster Recovery Services.
The bottom line: a computer system contingency plan could mean the difference between working through a tragedy or becoming a victim of it. A thorough disaster recovery plan serves as a kind of insurance policy against total shutdown when trouble hits.
"The one thing about this industry is it's like any other insurance policy you buy," Mr. Robinson says. "You hope you never have to use it."
Cleveland-based LDI sells computer backups to Baltimore-area computer-leasing customers from its office in Timonium.
The level of emergency support needed by a company varies with the seriousness of the setback, the size of its mainframe, and the intricacy of its computer operation.
The most basic service offered by disaster recovery suppliers is off-site storage of computer tapes. With this service, you regularly update essential data on duplicate computer tapes, which are kept in a remote location.
Then there are "cold" and "hot" site services. The cold site is merely a computer room void of hardware. In case of an emergency, a company would fill the cold site with the computer hardware needed to stay in operation.
In contrast, a hot site is a fully equipped data center, a kind of duplicate of your home site. You and your employees merely step in and continue working.
Comdisco Recovery Services Inc., the industry leader, set up a cold site in Baltimore in September. The CRDS Center at Sparrows Point, a partnership with Bethlehem Steel, converted an old Bethlehem Steel data center into a cold site to be used by local Comdisco clients.
Besides the computer room, the center has a canteen, general office space complete with telephones, a conference room and its own power generator, says Jon A. Jacobelli, a New Jersey-based consultant who worked to bring Comdisco and Bethlehem Steel together.
Based in Rosemont, Ill., Comdisco offers a broad range of services from tape storage to hot sites. Its Sparrows Point cold site is the only recovery facility based in Baltimore.
SunGard Recovery Services Inc., which is based in Philadelphia, Computer Solutions Inc., and Iron Mountain Recovery Services are among the vendors who have hot sites in neighboring states, according to Datapro, a research firm which tracks the industry. Computer Solutions is based in Orange, N.J., and Iron Mountain is based in Boston.
Other national vendors, such as LDI, offer remote hookup through telephone lines and computer networks to hot sites across the country.
Computer manufacturers such as International Business Machines Corp. and NCR Corp. market backup services to their computer customers. Last year, IBM Disaster Recovery Services Inc. opened a hot site in Washington, D.C.
The costs of the plans and the coverage provided can vary. As with any service, you should shop around for the service that best suits your companies needs.
The process of establishing your business-continuity plan usually begins with an analysis of your particular business needs and the potential impact of any interruption.
Some issues: How will the phones be rerouted? Which departments must be on line first? How much office space will you need? How much computer backup capacity is needed? What office machines must be present?
While recovery companies will often walk you through this process, you may want to enlist a third party to help out. Like many auditors, KPMG Peat Marwick, for one, has a separate division that can -- for a fee -- direct its clients in assessing risk, choosing a vendor and negotiating the recovery contract terms.
After establishing the details of your recovery drill -- down to the home phone numbers of all workers needed to run the plan -- your company would sign a contract with the vendor and pay a monthly subscription fee. Contracts are signed for one- to five-year terms, and can cost anywhere from $100 to $10,000 a month, depending on the provisions.
Signing on is only the beginning. To ensure success in time of need, you must periodically test your plan and update the information in it, say recovery experts.
Testing and maintenance are "of paramount importance," says Stephen A. Moritz, regional manager for information technology consulting at Peat Marwick. "Too many people develop a plan and they don't test it."
Most recovery firms require periodic testing by clients. And IBM allows customers to upgrade or cut back on their contingency coverage in mid-contract, says John E. Nevola, manager of IBM's Business Recovery Center in Franklin Lakes, N.J.
"[Clients] should be testing the plans regularly, not just as they develop the plan, but as the plan matures and business changes."
Having a recovery plan can not only keep you in business, it may also win you additional business, contends Alfred Passori, a disaster recovery consultant at Comdisco's Greenbelt office.
Many companies find "It's a marketing strategy, in that they can capture additional market share from competition that doesn't have it," he says.