There's a broad spectrum when it comes to small business and cloud computing. At one end you'll find SMB owners who run their entire business in the cloud, while the folks at the other end hear "cloud" and go check the weather.
If you fall anywhere other than the very bottom of that spectrum, it's important to understand the proper way to use the cloud for disaster recovery: how to further lower costs, and how to shorten the time it takes to get back to business after a disaster. You have plenty of options; the key is to know which cloud disaster recovery setup is right for your specific business needs.
Defining Disaster Recovery
First, it's important to understand what disaster recovery (DR) really means. Don't make the mistake of thinking that data backups are the same thing as disaster recovery (they're not). Another common but faulty assumption is that you don't have to do anything special about disaster recovery because all your information is in the cloud. Wrong again.
"SMBs need to realize that disaster recovery is not a synonym for data backups," says Tim Singleton, president of Strive Technology Consulting in Boulder, CO. "A backup is a copy of your data that's been stored somewhere safe. Disaster recovery is a plan for recovering that data, plus all the hardware lost in the disaster, and returning it to a reasonably functional state so that you can do business."
Disaster recovery is actually a subset of an over-arching business continuity plan, something no business should be without. Business continuity (BC) entails everything you need to keep your business running during and after a disaster, whether that disaster is the sudden death of a business partner, a natural disaster, sudden equipment failure, or a manmade disaster such as a terrorist attack or simple human error.
It's all fine and good that your data is in the cloud after disaster strikes, but can you reach it if you have no power, no working equipment, no office, and physically stranded employees? In business continuity planning, you must consider how employees can continue to work in remote locations and in bad conditions; how you will get new hardware in place in order to have something to download your data too; how quickly you need which data sets back in place in order to function; and other considerations related to resuming your business.
"Don't confuse DR with business continuity," warns David Van Allen, vice president of Operations at INetU. "It's a business continuity plan that should drive your DR objectives." That said, here's how you can best use the cloud in your DR and BC efforts.
Cloud Backups and Time to Recovery
The cloud is a great place to store backups because it's readily accessible and generally protected from disasters in your local area. However, you need to thoroughly consider Time to Recovery, i.e. how quickly you need that data delivered to you. That turn-around time affects how quickly you can resume business and how much disaster recovery will cost you.
"For example, if your file server crashes with 1 terabyte (TB) of data on it, then you need to transfer 1 TB of data from your backup location to your new server," explains Singleton. "If your backups are all in the cloud, they all need to be downloaded. Most SMB's can't afford anything faster than a 50 Mbps connection to the Internet, and transferring 1 TB of data over a 50 Mbps line takes a minimum of 46 hours."
According to a study by SpiceWorks, and sponsored by Carbonite, 45 percent of SMBs have experienced data loss and, on average, it cost $9,000 to recover the data. You can minimize this cost by having a good DR plan in place before disaster strikes.
"Most SMBs aren't storing petabytes of data, and they need only a reasonable amount of reliability," says Brian Geisel, CEO of Geisel Software. "The [high] cost really comes in around how quickly your data can be recovered. For most situations, you can setup DR that will recover within a couple of hours for less than $1,000."
No matter how you do the math, $1,000 in disaster preparation is a lot cheaper than $9,000 to recover after an event.
Time to Recovery Options
Another thing you can do to minimize costs is to have more than one way to recover your data after a disaster.
"If your company plans to keep all of its backups online, make sure the backup vendor will mail you a hard drive with your backups," says Singleton. "This is often much faster than trying to download it all. A better solution is to keep a copy of backups locally for a fast restore, as well as in the cloud."
However, if you are using the cloud for disaster recovery, then prioritize the data that you need immediately—think financials and CRM. If you opt to speedily download business-critical files, and leisurely download remaining data later, your costs will be much lower, and your recovery much faster, than downloading everything at once.