Confusion could spell disaster for government agencies

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Confusion could spell disaster for government agencies

U.S. government agencies haven’t done nearly enough to prepare for natural and man-made disasters when it comes to our country’s precious, mission-critical data, according to a new MeriTalk survey sponsored by SwishData and NetApp.

At first glance, federal CIOs and IT managers are wearing rose-colored glasses. 70 percent of them gave their agency’s “complete data backup and disaster recovery (DR) preparedness (including people, processes and technology)” an A or B grade. Only 8 percent gave their agency a D or F.

But when you dive deeper into the data and how these professionals responded to specific questions about their disaster preparedness, the story isn’t as rosy — only 54 percent of agencies have tested their ability to meet DR service-level agreements in the last 12 months. And that’s only half as often as recommended. Only 55 percent say they test recovery from a second site. And perhaps most damning — only 8 percent of federal IT professionals are completely confident they could recover all their data required by their SLAs in the event of a disaster.

Where is the disconnect? 

Why so challenged, government?

There are three major challenges government faces in getting DR up-to-speed. Exploding data volumes, no DR data storage sites and a lack of checks to ensure everything is set up to work properly in the first place.

Enormous data growth

Feds are facing unprecedented data growth, and their existing backup solutions are nearing capacity. Less than half of respondents to the survey thought their current solution was sufficient for the next 12 months. By 2015, the amount of data agencies will need to backup is expected to grow by 39 percent — that’s especially scary for agencies that are facing budget cuts and are already relying on insufficient storage.

Backup onsite

In an era of terrorism, insider threat and some of the worst natural disasters in recent history, government should be protecting its data from catastrophes on their premises. But almost half of the survey respondents don’t test their ability to restore data from a second location.   Only one in three agencies surveyed even had plans to start using off-premise backup. Federal IT will continue to look DR in the face unprepared until agencies get serious about insuring their data center architecture is ready to restore data from a secondary location.

Insufficient testing

The other primary challenge government IT faces is that many agencies don’t even know if their DR solution works. Respondents recommend their agencies test at least five times per year – but those same respondents report testing only half that often. The top three reasons why highlight other key underlying challenges to getting the backup mess in government sorted out — lack of budget (68 percent), lack of support from leadership (42 percent) and incomplete IT solutions (42 percent).

There is some silver lining. 61 percent of IT managers said they are able to test their DR solution without any impact or interruption to production systems. That number should ideally be 100 percent.

Five steps to preparedness 

The situation seems dire, but there are five ways to ensure your government agency quickly gets prepared for the worst: 

  • Get an honest, free, clear assessment of where your DR solutions really are from the Data Performance Architects at SwishData
  • Share that assessment with leadership
  • Employ DR experts to design and implement a complete plan that involves technology, people and processes
  • Test, test, test. Test some more
  • Continuously reassess your systems because your data is constantly changing and growing

There are lots of kinks to work out of DR within government. And we should all be concerned because some of that data is pretty important to our national security, healthcare and services we rely on daily. It’s not all the feds’ fault, many in private industry have similar problems. IT professionals are working with increasingly limited resources, certainly. But making good decisions and implementing the right solutions up front can save money, time — and lives — in the long run.

Join the Discussion – Disaster Unpreparedness Webinar

Join us on June 20 at 1 p.m. ET as we discuss the results of the Disaster Unpreparedness report and the gap between how agencies rate their disaster recovery preparedness and their actual readiness.  Josh Sawislak, Senior Advisor for Infrastructure, President's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, along with Jean-Paul Bergeaux, Chief Technology Officer, SwishData, will share insights on how to improve disaster recovery solutions, how often to test solutions, and how to combat a false confidence in solutions.  Register now.

The survey referred to in this report comprised responses from 150 DoD and civilian government agency CIOs and IT managers in December 2012. To learn more about how SwishData helps government plan for disaster in the face of budgetary constraints, follow us on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.

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