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How to make IT infrastructure resilient against extreme weather

While companies and nations try to reduce emissions, extreme weather events are increasingly common. How should business adapt IT infrastructure?

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Climate change threatens IT infrastructure disruption

Almost nothing in the world will be unaffected by climate change. From more storms and wildfires to rising sea levels, the impact of extreme weather events will only grow.

Infrastructure, too, faces tough challenges from sudden and damaging floods, hurricanes and heatwaves. IT networks and systems, and the vital data they hold, may be most at risk.

We’ve already seen what can happen. Wildfires can take out cell towers, preventing those affected from calling for help. Flooding has taken on a UK data center used by a mobile phone network. Businesses that plan to rely on driverless tech should be aware it’s not yet working well in severe weather.

For enterprises, preparing for the impacts of climate change is no substitute for doing all they can today to reduce emissions and sequester (store) carbon. But business and IT leaders can protect their vital IT infrastructure for more extreme times ahead.

With a solid resilience plan, you can put in place strategies to address the changing climate and lessen its impacts on your business.

Why invest in infrastructure resilience?

According to 2018 OECD policy paper, Climate Resilient Infrastructure, if we don’t adapt infrastructure, climate change will increase extreme weather infrastructure damage in Europe ten-fold by the end of the century.

Bryan Strawser, CEO of experts in crisis management and business continuity Bryghtpath, expects climate change and its associated risks will have a growing impact on IT resilience and business continuity in the coming years.

“We’ll see impacts from physical risks like flooding and a continued increase in extreme weather events. There will be changes in how we think about using power, water and other natural resources. It will impact large data centers and other technologies that use these resources,” Strawser told me.

What business leaders should consider

When assessing risk from climate change, business leaders must consider a wide range of impacts. There are urgent short-term issues, like intense rainfall and cyclones, and chronic long-term problems like rising sea levels and temperature increases. But with the right partners and resilience plans, business can successfully manage the challenges climate disruption will bring.

Dealing with each issue in isolation is unworkable because of the sheer number of events that could pose a threat. Strawser advises that instead, work out a comprehensive IT resilience program aligned with your business continuity plans.

“It’s critical your C-suite and board have good visibility of the overall resilience program. Align the program with the organization’s sustainability strategy and goals to ensure unified effort across the organization,” Strawser says.

Raising the environmental standard of business

While IT infrastructure’s contribution to carbon emissions is comparatively small, there is a role for IT managers and leaders in establishing sustainability frameworks internally around things like IT procurement, choosing data centers and adopting other solutions that reduce emissions.

Mike Davis, Executive Business Consultant at business and IT consultancy Waterstons, highlights the role of meeting international standards. “ICT managers should encourage and take part in organizational compliance with standards like ISO 14001, which covers practical tools to manage environmental responsibilities, and ISO 50001, for energy management.”

He adds, “[Companies should] consider supporting change to their organization’s fundamental stakeholder value proposition by seeking B Corp membership or something similar.” B Corporations are certified as meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

IT climate risk is risk on a new scale

No two organizations will take the same approach to securing their IT infrastructure, as the exact climate change resilience strategies are unique to an organization’s own risks.

For some enterprises, data centers will need extra protection or relocating, while others may need strengthened alternative communication lines to ensure backup is available in areas prone to weather disruption.

In any scenario, the challenge for IT managers is considering resilience to a much greater extent than was previously needed. Current IT planning capability may need more skills to handle much more uncertainty and risk.

Mike Davis, Executive Business Consultant, Waterstons

Join forces with others

One company may have a limited impact on the global climate, but efforts amplify when organizations work together to build up industry capabilities and technologies. Spending time and money researching new and improved ways to construct IT infrastructure can pay dividends by reducing risk long-term.

Luis Neves, CEO of Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI,) supporting IT firms to act sustainably, believes we must encourage a new wave of research and development “centered on climate-resilient innovation, aiming to generate energy-efficient gadgets and components fit for forecasted climate circumstances and to promote ICT user and sector adaptation.”

Neves also thinks, “This could spur new learning processes inside the industry and help it adapt to climate change by increasing flexibility and diversity.”

Getting fast responses right

For businesses that don’t set up a clear and comprehensive strategy to address IT resilience issues, unforeseen weather episodes can cause far more damage than for those who create a plan when climate change-driven events strike.

Neves says Deutsche Telekom shows how an organization should respond to devastating damage to IT infrastructure. Extensive flooding in Germany in July 2021 destroyed or damaged much IT infrastructure, with around 250,000 people losing mobile network connection.

Deutsche Telekom immediately set up a fast reaction team and four-phase plan. First, they created a single point of truth for customer help, then tackled technical and network disaster recovery. Finally, they set up a company-wide emergency team.

Two months after Germany’s 2021 flooding, Deutsche Telekom had recovered its full mobile network thanks to an approach based on ‘fast is better than perfect,’ and attention to people care.

Luis Neves, CEO, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)

With catastrophic weather events growing in frequency, business must adapt to a new normal where damage to IT infrastructure is common. Through comprehensive planning, they can be more competitive and ensure the availability of life-saving communication lines.

“These effects are already felt and will only worsen,” says Neves of GeSI. “Long-term plans that address national priorities for sustainable development and progress toward international commitments will be crucial.”

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About authors

Finbarr Toesland is a London-based journalist who has written for NBC News, Reuters and BBC. He has a master’s in African Studies from University of Cambridge.