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Disaster Recovery for Small-to-Medium Businesses -- It's Not Just for Huge Companies

By Robert Gerace
CRC Data Protection

There’s a dirty little secret out there, and it’s time to drag it out into the light: most small-to-medium businesses are extremely vulnerable to disaster – to the point where many of their systems, if lost, would be completely unrecoverable.

Disaster can take many faces. Most often tornados and hurricanes come to mind, but a software-upgrade-gone-wrong, or a moment of careless mouse-clicking by an employee can wipe out years of information.

Not too many people like to admit that they have no net under their trapeze – and fewer still will admit it to the people who depend on them (their clients). Yet, the fact remains that there is no ‘net’ under so many businesses’ computer system – and businesses crash and burn every day due to the fact.

To most people this would seem hard to believe. The very same people who run their businesses without Disaster Recovery procedures in place have business insurance, and automobile insurance, and lock the doors when they leave at night. Why would otherwise ‘protected’ businesses remain totally exposed to data loss?

Here’s why: Disaster Recovery companies have spent far too long reaching for the ‘brass ring’ (i.e. huge businesses with six-to-eight figure budgets). Spend an hour or so with search engines and you’ll find untold numbers of ‘hot-sites’ and redundant-fail-over servers and six-figure-software to keep them in-sync. Or better yet, call the leading providers of operating systems, email servers, and database servers and ask them what kind of licensing fees you would incur to build a ‘High-Availability’ cluster (two or more servers that will work if one of them fails). Make sure you’re sitting down. Some people speak in ‘Disaster Recovery Spending Units’ and the smallest unit is 0,000.

Most small-to-medium business owners spend some time looking at all of the above and shrug their shoulders realizing they will probably never be able to afford adequate protection – and rationalize that they’ve made it this far without a major loss event – and hope their luck continues to hold. This article is being written to exactly the person mentioned in the prior sentence – the person who knows s/he needs to be protected and has no clue how to make it happen affordably.

Step 1: Get Internet Vaulting. There is no better way to ensure that your data is being moved offsite on a regular and reliable schedule; and moving your data offsite on a regular and reliable schedule is the most important step. Be careful, however. A quick search of ‘online backup’ will turn up thousands of companies jumping on the bandwagon. To many companies, the promise of recurring revenue for computer-automated-work is alluring, and many companies are not making the proper investments to provide the service correctly.

Step 2: Make sure your Internet Vaulting company has made the proper investments. The idea here is that you are going to be paying a monthly fee to have your data safely tucked away, but the best companies minimize the fee with expensive technology. Look for the term ‘Delta Blocking’ as this means that if a large file changes, only the smallest part of the file that changed is moved offsite for you to pay to have stored. Look for AES encryption, redundant data centers, and compression of data. De-duplication of data means that if there are 10 copies of a spreadsheet on your network, you only get charged to store 3 of them at most. The most sophisticated companies also help you to manage the lifecycle of data (more about that below.) You will also need to look out for redundancy of hardware at the vaulting company’s facilities.

The point of this article is that you, the small-to-medium business owner doesn’t need to spend millions of dollars to be adequately protected; but your online backup service most certainly does, or it isn’t going to be reliable enough for you to be able to count on when the chips are down.

Step 3: Get more than just offsite backup. The best companies will provide consulting services to help you find all the data on your network, categorize it, and optimize the cost to store data as it ages – managing the lifecycle of data. Clearly your Accounts Receivable is critical, and losing it means lost income. However, tax returns from two years ago are not critical to your day-to-day operations, but losing them would be bad – really bad if you needed them to defend an audit. But where the creditors won’t wait for you to collect on your invoices before they start dinging your D&B files, the IRS will be happy to wait a day or so while you reproduce the data you need. These facts speak volumes to the idea that you should pay a premium to get some data back in an instant, but pay less for data that your backup service provider can take a day or so to produce. Finally on this subject, it is important that the consulting is an ongoing process to ensure that as you (and each of your employees) install and upgrade software that your data continues to get backed up properly.

Step 4: There is more to backing up than just files. Email, databases, and even servers can be fully protected, and should be. Business owners are litigation magnets and sometimes having a critical email would put an end to a lawsuit. Industry statistics state that it takes about 3 business days to completely recover a lost server. So make sure yours are protected.

Step 5: Work with your BSP (Backup Service Provider) to develop a plan for the worst, and then test it. It takes less time than you think to restore your critical system (after you do the work to identify them!) to some computers at home. Prove to yourself that in the event of a disaster that you’ll be able to recover and operate your critical systems.

Step 6: Monitor your systems. Now that you’ve arrived at the state of being protected, it takes very little effort to stay there. Stay in touch with your service provider, and run periodic tests.

Step 7: Incorporate the highlights of your plan into your marketing literature! You’ve got something that differentiates you from most of your competitors, and it sells!

About the Author: Robert Gerace has owned and operated small-to-medium businesses since 1989. In 2002 a data loss event resulting in months of programming work needing to be redone caused him to begin investigating data protection strategies. Since that time, he and his companies have become experts in disaster recovery and data protection and now provide those services to over 800 companies. Contact him at

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