5 Cheap-and-Easy Disaster Recovery Tips

By Drew Robb | Posted February 15, 2011

Working at Home

Nearly all large enterprises have sophisticated disaster recovery plans in place. They create secondary sites in remote locations that come online if anything should go wrong with the primary data center. They replicate data so that additional copies are available should hardware fail. And they have data backups of everything, store tapes offsite and institute numerous other safeguards.

Disaster Recovery and Small Business

At the small business end of the spectrum, however, it's a very different story. “In the past, disaster recovery was in the realm of the rich and famous -- large environments that could cover the cost of supporting data protection activities with their size,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with Server and StorageIO Group.

“Today, things are quite different: there are plenty of technologies that small businesses can use to protect critical data while making sure all their other information is protected in a timely manner without breaking the bank.”

Despite that, Symantec’s 2011 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey reveals that many SMBs are not taking advantage of this technology. The main reason: they do not understand the importance of disaster preparedness. Half do not have a disaster recovery plan in place. Forty-one percent said that it never occurred to them to put together a plan, and 40 percent stated that disaster preparedness was simply not a priority for them.

“Despite warnings, it seems like many small businesses still think a disaster can’t happen to them,” said Bernard Laroche, senior director, SMB product marketing at Symantec. “Simple planning can enable them to protect their information in the event of a disaster, which in turn will help them build trust with their customers.”

The survey also found that, on-average, a small business experiences six computer outages a year -- due mainly to cyber attacks, power outages or natural disasters.  Further, 65 percent of respondents live in regions susceptible to natural disasters. Despite this, less than 50 percent of SMBs back up their data weekly.

Cheap and Easy Disaster Recovery Options

The problem many small businesses cite for lack of disaster recovery is cost. They don’t have the funds to buy a second set of hardware and software to keep in a different location in the event of a catastrophe. Nor do they typically have the IT resources internally to do an adequate job of protecting their data and systems. So what can they do? Here are five affordable disaster recovery options for your small business.

1. Hosting

Vance Checketts, chief operating officer of Mozy, remote backup company, suggested that SMBs use software as a service (SaaS) for their principal applications, and use outside services in other ways, too. As these are hosted by the vendor and delivered over the Web, a well-designed backup plan is almost always built into them. In other words, the vendor provides far greater protection of the data than most SMBs could ever manage.

Sophisticated applications such as Saleforce.com and many others now provide enterprise-class functionality at an affordable subscription rate. Further, should anything damage or prevent you from reaching the computers at the office, you can access these services on any computer provided that you have the user name and password.

“You can host your website and other critical infrastructure, too,” said Checketts.

Many providers, for instance, will keep your website going. SMBs that require more IT gear, can rent the server and storage hardware at someone else’s data center.

These facilities have every level of protection imaginable as they make their money by providing zero downtime for customers. Examples include Switch Communications, Windstream Hosted Solutions and CDW.

2. Online Backup

Small businesses have always struggled with data backup. Stories abound of people forgetting to load backup tapes, of tapes disappearing or other things gone awry. Or worse, in the event of an actual failure, the data backup isn’t available -- even though you performed the backup. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, one small business discovered that its tape-hosting provider had abandoned the downtown building where it keep its backup tapes.

Online backup provides a better solution. Companies with servers can set it up to have all key files automatically backed up daily, or certain PCs backed up directly. Providers include Mozy, Carbonite, Jungle Disk and Iron Mountain.

Rates vary depending on the amount of data you back up and the level of service you desire. Mozy, for instance, charges $3.95 per month per desktop plus $0.50/GB per month or $6.95 per month per server and $0.50/GB per month.

3. Off-site Protection at No Cost

Mike Karp, an analyst at Ptak Noel & Associates suggested a novel program for small businesses. Find another company with a similar IT setup as your own and then partner -- each protects the data of the other.

“Every small business owner knows someone who has the same concerns that they have, and may well have about as much (or as little) IT expertise as they have,” said Karp. “Every week, this set of acquaintances could transfer data from one business to the other, either by shipping data saved on DVDs or by transferring data electronically between the two sites. In other words, your business will be a disaster recovery site for my data, and my business will provide a disaster recovery site for your data.”

Taking it even simpler, a couple of associates at nearby small businesses could meet once a week and swap disks. That would at least given them both some sense that their data was being protected.

4. Keep an Extra Copy In-house

Another cheap option is for companies to buy a cheap network attached storage (NAS) box to store extra copies of data onsite. Schulz uses an Iomega StorCenter Pro ix4-100 desktop appliance, but also suggests other similar options by Drobo NetGear and Buffalo. Most of them are available for less than $1,000.

The Iomega ix4-100, for instance, offers up to 4TB of networked storage, which can be used for extra storage, file-sharing for up to 25 office users and backup. It comes with built-in security, data protection, and it can be managed by someone with no IT background. Mozy online backup service is also rolled into the deal.

“For my own business, I do local disk-to-disk backups using the Iomega unit, making sure the file server and workstations -- as well as laptops -- are protected locally,” said Schulz. “I send copies offsite to a managed service provider. In addition, I also have a full backup and archive copy sitting in a secure vault. Hint, if you are a small business, go visit your banker and ask about a safe deposit box.”

5. Go Beyond Technology

Finally, businesses both large and small often miss one major disaster recovery point. Disaster recovery involves more than just technology. You absolutely need to have extra copies of data, systems that keep running when a disk fails, and offsite backup. But all of that won’t do much good in the event of a major earthquake or hurricane if there is no water or power for five days.

“Any business needs a communication plan that lays out which people in your organization are in charge and how to reach them,” said Sabine Waterkamp, president of ACSLA, an IT services firm in Los Angeles. “This should include contact numbers, emergency emails or even a website where information will be available.”

The disaster recovery plan should lay out how to tell customers and vendors what is happening, and how to reach you. In addition to computer backups, the company should also figure out what it needs at a minimum to keep going if city services are curtailed.

This might include having a diesel generator on site with enough fuel for several days, or even something creative like having the boss’s (or an employee’s) motor home double as Emergency Central. Such vehicles typically include their own generator and a wireless internet connection. The disaster recovery plan, therefore, could entail having key employees coming to work at that location and getting the computer systems up and running from there.

Alternatively, someone may have to travel outside of the disaster area to gain access to a network to bring up the systems remotely, said Waterkamp. “Disaster recovery is not an IT function, it is a business function,” she said. “A business continuance plan encompasses the business as a whole.”

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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