Recovering from a business disruption: expect the unexpected

By Tim Lawlor, Retrofit Technologies

For many small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) these days, a technical disruption of their daily workflow can quickly turn into a business killer.  Many companies are now dependent on a sophisticated foundation of powerful computers and applications, data networks, and voice communications, and cannot afford even the slightest interruption to their IT infrastructure.

When we think about disaster recovery strategies, most of us envision natural disasters, such as floods, tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes.  But a better definition of “disaster” encompasses any event that prevents you from accessing the data and systems you need to conduct business. 

These can include a regional power failure, much like the one earlier this year in Boston’s Back Bay district, or a rapidly spreading computer virus.  It could also come in the form of employee sabotage or external data fraud.

Regardless of the cause, data outages hurt.  According to the University of Texas, 94% of companies suffering from a catastrophic data loss do not survive – 43% never reopen, and an additional 51% close within two years.  With so much at stake, companies have a responsibility to their clients and themselves to have a business continuity plan.  Today, smart companies know that disaster recovery planning and preparedness are non-negotiable.

Data Protection – Tape Is Not Enough

One of the most important issues in business continuity is protecting data. For most companies, data is too valuable an asset to strictly rely on unstructured backup and archiving processes with unreliable media.  Unfortunately, many companies turn to tape as their preferred medium because of its low cost. 

According to an analysis by Forester Research, 50% of all tape backups fail to restore.  Tape comes with a host of uncertainties, and raises critical questions including:

  • Has a good, valid backup been captured?  Is there data on the tape?
  • Where is the data being stored? If it isn’t offsite, the backup may be useless if your data center is destroyed.
  • Are the drives and equipment at the offsite location compatible with your tape format?
  • Assuming compatible systems, will the tapes index and restore correctly?
  • How quickly can tape-based data be accessed so that operations can be quickly restored?

Many SMB’s are increasingly turning from tape to online backup.  With online backup, the data can be captured on a continuous or near-real-time basis to a remote facility.  The backups are more reliable than tape, especially considering as many as half of all tape restores fail.

Capital Costs – Making the Right Choice

Building a true business continuity plan including a solid backup and disaster recovery plan requires sufficient capital outlays to acquire server hardware, software, connectivity, staff training and other resources.  But these costs will likely pale in comparison to the average cost of data downtime for an SMB, which is estimated at $12,500 per server, per day.

Inevitably, the issue of outsourcing disaster recovery to a service provider vs. keeping it in-house will need to be addressed.  Companies must carefully consider whether it would be better to lease the real-estate and procure, install, and maintain all of the equipment themselves, or to work with an outside vendor who specializes in disaster recovery strategies and solutions as its core service.

Generally, the upfront capital costs of each approach tend to be about equal.  But the ongoing maintenance and management expenses of one approach could be higher than the other, and thus should be studied carefully.

Regardless of the approach, the ideal disaster recovery strategy will include a “hot” or remote site that replicates the company’s IT environment and enables workers to be up and running immediately in the event of an unforeseen outage.

About the Author

Tim Lawlor is CEO and principal owner of RetroFit Technologies in Milford, MA.  He has more than 35 years of experience as an information technology professional, and has additional experience in sales, operations and finance.  He can be reached at 508.244.2438 or at tlawlor@retrofit.com.