A disaster resilience strategy ensures that an organisation or facility will be able to function based on an event or failure. However, this strategy is often formed at corporate IT level, leaving organisations with manufacturing facilities extremely vulnerable. We look at the specific challenges facing plant environments and examine how a ‘standard’ solution created to serve a commercial office environment could have a disastrous commercial implications for manufacturers.

The terms disaster recovery and disaster resilience are often mistakenly interchanged, but ultimately, in the midst of chaos surrounding lost data and facility down time, very few people will care about the definition of the terms. However, it is vital organisations develop an understanding of both before such issues arise. A recent study by IBM announced that 43% of companies that suffer a major loss of business data never reopen, with a staggering 51% closing within two years and just 6% surviving in the long-term.

So what is the difference between the two? Disaster recovery relates to the process of restoring the data and applications your business runs on in the event of data centres, servers or other key infrastructure being severely damaged or destroyed. Conversely, disaster resilience refers to the process whereby businesses that suffer such issues are able to continue to operate with little or no downtime or outage, maintaining business continuity. On a basic level, one is picking yourself up after a fall, taking stock and continuing whilst the other is planning to not fall at all.

Deciding between the two can be a difficult choice, especially when considering the grave consequences of selecting the wrong option. For disaster recovery, businesses need to first assess the cost of downtime whilst data is recovered, who and what is required for the recovery process and how long the process will take from disaster to recovery. For disaster resilience, businesses must assess the likely causes of the disaster, what the minimum components are for systems to still operate and how these will still be available during the disaster.

Disaster resilience plans are commonplace in corporate IT, however there is often an assumption that a solution that fits an office environment will also protect a plant environment. A recent piece of research we conducted identified that manufacturing organisations often inherit IT infrastructures specified at corporate level that are not robust enough for the plant environment. The survey also revealed that 40% of manufacturing businesses were less than confident in their organisation’s ability to get up and running again after a critical IT failure.

These worrying stats can be attributed to manufacturers being focused on developing, marketing and selling their products, and, as such, disaster resilience is often something that slips down the list of priorities – usually until something goes wrong. We’ve heard directly from engineering, operations and IT departments that there is a clear requirement for a reliable, secure and cost-effective IT solution to replace their existing systems.

The plant floor provides a very different set of challenges to an office environment when considering the implications of unplanned system downtime. This can be attributed to the high costs associated with a production facility grinding to a halt. Manufacturers will not only face the cost of productivity loss, but they may also face fines for missing contracted production quotas and shipments. Likewise, the associated cost of a workforce unable to do their jobs and the knock-on effect this will have down the supply chain can also hit manufacturers. Quality loss and production variability from before or after the downtime can also mean that energy, materials and man-hours are wasted manufacturing sub-substandard products. It is therefore vital that manufacturers consider a number of key questions when assessing their plant-specific disaster resilience plan, including: what is the maximum allowable downtime, how and where should data be stored, how quickly must data be retrieved and mounted or restored and how do you ensure your plan actually works?

At a time where manufacturers are becoming increasingly reliant on the reliability, availability and performance of their industrial IT systems, leaving themselves so exposed should be their primary cause for concern. System performance, whether that is the SCADA application, underlying technology or infrastructure, defines an organisation’s reputation, especially where downtime is no longer an option. A unified management approach is essential in maintaining and protecting a system’s health and security.

Often though, this sort of approach requires a large investment of both time and money for manufacturers to rollout internally. However, it is becoming increasingly popular for organisations to utilise third parties to remotely monitor and back up systems. These services, such as SolutionPT’s Managed Platform service, offer a combination of encrypted local back-up virtualisation, off site replication and bare metal restore. Offering a complete IT system infrastructure combined with SCADA performance management and disaster resilience, Managed Platform enables manufacturers to combine performance monitoring, proactive alerting and disaster resilience to help reduce downtime, lower capital and operating costs and increase competitiveness.

Tailored solutions such as this mean that disaster resilience plans need not be a luxury for companies but are instead a necessity, providing a solution to critical business risks and IT challenges at an affordable cost - allowing companies to focus their time, resources and energy on developing and marketing their products.

By Tony Mannion, Business Unit Leader for Industrial IT at SolutionsPT