Tuesday 11 October 2016

Myths around Pharma downtime: "Resilience costs a fortune"

Over recent blogs, I've talked a lot about the cost and likelihood of IT systems downtime in pharmaceuticals, so today I wanted to consider what can be done to mitigate the risks in our highly regulated industry.

Is it really a case of having to accept that without massive investment IT systems will periodically fail? Well no, my experience is that whilst it is nigh on impossible to guard against every potential disaster, there is a much that can be done to safeguard any organisation against the majority of causes of costly downtime. A decade ago high resilience systems and sophisticated disaster recovery plans were the preserve of rich large enterprises, but with advancements in technology there are now many good solutions out there that are affordable for SMBs, and can guarantee system up-time.

Network monitoring tools can be very useful, as when configured correctly they can highlight potential problems before they cause costly downtime. This allows for proactive maintenance to pre-empt problems such as disk space filling up, backup errors or potential security threats. Many such tools are now available as a cost-effective charge per server per month, with the provider doing the monitoring and advising on any necessary remedial work before your business is affected by downtime.

The advent of virtualisation technology has also made restoration of full servers much easier, as there is no longer a dependence on having to restore onto near identical hardware. This means that with the right network design, backup technologies and procedures, the server infrastructure can be configured with some spare capacity, allowing a failed server or service to be restored onto another piece of hardware quickly and easily.

For services where the business cost or compliance implications of any downtime would be prohibitive, there are also real-time replication solutions available that allow data to be replicated "live" between primary and secondary server environments. Whilst these are still a bit more costly than some of the other options, they have still fallen in price dramatically over recent years and are within the reach of many SMEs now.

And of course cloud technology can also offer the benefit of your data being stored in multiple Data Centres, configured in a highly resilient arrangement. Although, as I have touched on in previous blogs, I would caution that no pharmaceutical company should take it for granted that any cloud solution offers this level of resilience or is fully MHRA / HIPAA compliant by default – due diligence is essential, and in many cases third-party add-on options are needed.

Resilience can also be built into Internet connectivity, with diversely routed circuits or circuits delivered via different media such as wireless and fibre, thereby protecting against the majority of Internet downtime. With falling costs of Internet connectivity, I sometimes find that it's even possible to achieve a dual Internet connectivity strategy for the same cost as the previous single line.

Many firewalls now also offer relatively low cost active/passive arrangements where one unit will take over from the other in the event of a failure, thus eliminating another single-point-of-failure from the network.

And user education and awareness also forms another vital part of the network resilience plan. Simple tips around password security and exercising caution with opening attachments or clicking on links, can go a long way to avoiding problems such as ransomware attacks, at very little cost.

In summary, there is much that pharmaceutical and life sciences businesses can do to ensure they are compliant and that they minimise the business risk of costly downtime. Changes in technology have meant that many of the solutions available today are affordable and practical for small and medium size pharmaceutical businesses.

If you would like to find out more about improving your network resilience, or you would like a review of your disaster recovery plans, please do not hesitate to contact me on (01494) 444065 or email gary.swanwick@epoq-IT.co.uk.

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