Preparing for the worst

Ben Barnes has two words for trucking companies seeking to secure their IT networks against hackers, viruses, and outage caused by storms or other natural disasters: Be prepared. The issue confronting IT is how to control disasters with a minimum of downtime, said Barnes, systems group director for McLeod Software, at the company's recent User Conference. The question you need to answer is, How long

Ben Barnes has two words for trucking companies seeking to secure their IT networks against hackers, viruses, and outage caused by storms or other natural disasters: Be prepared.

“The issue confronting IT is how to control disasters with a minimum of downtime,” said Barnes, systems group director for McLeod Software, at the company's recent User Conference. “The question you need to answer is, ‘How long can I afford to have our operating systems down?’”

As the average tractor-trailer generates $120,000 in revenue per year, Barnes said it's critical for fleets to calculate from that basis point how long they can afford to have their IT systems out of action. For example, how long can they be without communications with the drivers or how long can the driver pay settlement wait?

You have to put a dollar-per-hour value on your IT systems. “The amount of downtime a fleet can afford dictates how much you should invest in IT protection, response, and a recovery plan,” said Barnes.

“For a big fleet, one day of downtime may be unacceptable. A smaller carrier, may be able to handle one day of IT downtime, but two days may be tough and three days unacceptable,” he added.

For example, some fleets may only need to back up the data on their servers if they have an acceptable downtime window, whereas others may need to invest in duplicate servers and power generators due to the critical mass of their data flow.

“The first thing you need to do is define an IT disaster. If your system crashes for four hours, is that a disaster? If you lose phone service for two days, is that a disaster? Then you need to plan and prepare for those scenarios,” Barnes noted.

“Make sure you have the proper recovery tools in place: backup servers, power supplies, hard drives, data replication” he added. “Backups are your number-one tool for disaster recovery, so make sure your have bootable backup files — not just the data itself, but files that can reboot the server, too.”

Finally, make sure you test your IT recovery plan from end to end to make sure it will work. “The cure for an IT disaster is recovery and the key to recovery is testing everything, from fire walls to backup servers,” Barnes explained.

“You can do all of this recovery planning, but if you never test it, you won't know if it actually works. So hire a third party to run a mock drill to ensure that your plan works.”

An IT manager for a trucking company today can't afford to be caught unprepared. “When the chips start falling, they are more than likely all going to fall on you,” Barnes said. “That's why the last thing you want to do is try and come up with a recovery plan in the middle of an IT meltdown.”

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