Like most of the continental United States, Buffalo was expected to suffer the brunt of a tremendous storm this week. Fortunately, we escaped relatively unscathed – despite dozens of schools and businesses preemptively canceling their workdays on Wednesday, the anticipated feet of snow and ice never arrived.
Despite this, though, I imagine that a lot of businesses in the area were taking a long look at their disaster plans. Just because some employees are unable to get to the office doesn’t mean that the business should simply close down for the day. In that vein, I wanted to mention two topics that need to be addressed if you want work to be possible outside of the physical boundaries of your business location.
Centralize Your Data
Too many small businesses work in an ad-hoc fashion, without any centralized file storage. This means that important documents are only available on a particular person’s workstation, or are squirreled away on a flash drive or floppy disk in the back of a locked drawer in the author’s desk. One of the first steps toward making your information infrastructure more robust is to properly centralize and organize your data. This has several advantages:
- A single central data store is much easier to back up than a collection of random workstations.
- A single employee leaving or changing jobs will not affect the information that he or she was handling.
- A single workstation with a hardware failure can be easily replaced, since user data won’t need to be replicated from the old drive.
- Most importantly, an individual employee’s work is no longer dependent on a single physical workstation.
Think about it – what is the biggest single factor that keeps knowledge employees from working at home now? It’s that they don’t have access to their data – memos, notes, project lists, legacy files, and the like. Most people have a computer and some sort of Internet access at home, but without data access, that doesn’t mean that they can work effectively. And without centralization of data, they can’t get that data access.
Now, centralization of data can mean many different things depending on what sort of data they need to handle. If it’s primarily textual or documentary data, a wiki like MediaWiki or Confluence might be a good option. For data that many people are editing and collaborating on, a version control system like Subversion might be appropriate. For general file storage, a file server built on Ubuntu and Samba might be your best bet. Beyond choosing the appropriate methodology for the data, the important thing is realizing the necessity of having all of the data in one place.
Deploy a VPN
Once all of the data is properly centralized, that means that any computer with proper access to your local network will be able to access it. Under normal business circumstances, this means that your employees can access or share their work from anywhere in the building. This is good – it makes work more efficient and flexible. More importantly, combining this centralized data with a Virtual Private Network means that your employees can access their data from anywhere on the Internet. This is even better.
Let’s look at the example of Alice and Bob. Alice and Bob are collaborating on a piece of documentation – Alice has deployed a new piece of equipment, and Bob is in charge of writing up the procedure for using it.Each time Bob writes a new section of the guide, Alice has to approve it.
Under the old model, where everything is stored on local hard drives, the writing of this documentation grinds to a halt whenever Alice or Bob is out of the office. After all, if Bob has changed something, and then leaves work early, the data is stored on his computer and Alice can’t confirm that it’s been changed or that the changes are accurate. A lot of time is wasted waiting for an opportunity for the two of them to work together.
In the new model, where data is centralized, Alice doesn’t have to wait for Bob – the new data is stored on some central server, like a wiki, and so she can continue checking its accuracy without his needing to be present. But if any changes need to be made, again, the project grinds to a halt. Bob needs to be on-site for the process to continue.
But if we combine this centralized data with a VPN, then Bob can work from anywhere on the Internet. A snow day, like the one that was anticipated this week, shouldn’t slow anything down; Bob can log into the business VPN, gain access to the central data store, and continue working on the documentation. Alice can do the same. And rather than losing a day of productivity to a snowstorm or a driving ban, they can finish the documentation and be ready to move on to another task when the office is open again.
Data centralization and VPN deployment are two of the many services that we offer. If you would like help disaster-proofing your business’s data, please click on the Contact button to the left and send us an email.