5 Tips: How to Recover When Your Tech Tools Fail
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) sparked massive amounts of online protest and left politicians running for cover. And then the feds shut down Megaupload.com, a major file downloading site for alleged piracy of copyrighted works.
What do they both have to do with your business? Maybe more than you think. Many corporate employees used Megaupload, according to one study, and the site accounted for a quarter of Web-based file-sharing. Perhaps some number of those employees were downloading episodes of "True Blood" and "The Simpsons," but it's also likely there was some actual work going on.
That's the problem. Companies come to depend on popular Internet tools and services that sometimes have less than pristine provenance. Even if federal agents aren't walking in with subpoenas and confiscating servers, there are plenty of other things that can go wrong with a service provider, from catastrophic storms (remember how weather in Japan and Taiwan hampered the electronics manufacturers last year) to the ordinary outages that even happen on Amazon's cloud services.
Here are some steps to take to ensure that your company keeps up and running, even when important technology service providers don't.
Keep copies of all data in-house — Many cloud vendors would have you believe that your data will be perfectly safe on their systems and you need no longer keep anything on premises. Don't believe it. An outage may be unusual, but it is hardly impossible. Ultimately, you care more about your data than any service provider. So keep copies of everything.
Have back-up providers — If you use one service provider to download files to customers, employees, and business partners, be sure to have a back-up account with at least one other. Should things go terribly wrong and your primary choice becomes unavailable, the second provider can keep you going. When one email address doesn't work, have an additional address or two through Web providers like Google and Yahoo.
Have alternates — Third-party providers aren't the only options. For example, talk to your ISP about an FTP file transfer server. You can set up areas to download files and give people from outside your company IDs and passwords for those particular areas only. If your phone system gives out, check if there are any fax lines that you can press into service for urgent calls. Maybe there are nearby cafes or bookstores with Wi-Fi connections. Any such workaround may be a little more cumbersome, but it can keep you operating, and that's the whole idea.
Check your smartphone or tablet — When things are really bad and your ISP is MIA, you may have access through a cell connection. Depending on the service provider, you may be able to tether computers to phones like a modem. Some smartphones can act like Wi-Fi hotspots, giving access to more than one device. Don't have the service levels you need? Call the provider and ask for an emergency upgrade.
Work it out ahead — Should things go wrong, you might have the presence of mind to find alternative ways of working on the fly. But it's much easier to think things through in advance and to make plans that you can pull out when you need them most.
Hopefully, you'll never need to make a sudden shift in operations to accommodate a sudden loss of a technology service that you badly need to do business. But if the day comes, know that this, too, shall pass.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.