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Disaster recovery outsourcing: Simple and cheap

The thought of a disaster wiping out or crippling your small or medium-sized business probably crosses your mind more than you'd care to admit. One way to minimize the effects of a disaster is to outsource your disaster recovery (DR) to a third party.

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Assess your needs: Before you begin researching a third party or service provider, you must determine whether you have sufficient resources in-house to cope with a disaster. Does your staff have enough knowledge? Do you have the proper facilities and hardware?

There are three approaches for ascertaining staff knowledge:

  • Ask what your staff can do. This is an informal approach. You can find out a lot by simply asking your staff members what they can and can't do.
  • Give standardized tests to assess staff knowledge. This is a more formal approach. Standardized testing is a good way to assess staff knowledge of everyday applications, operating systems and hardware platforms, as well as of security software and threats. Plus, you can take into account the certifications your staff members hold.
  • Real-world experience. This is the common sense approach. Bear in mind that real-world experience of your staff members can be a better indicator of their abilities than certificates they may or may not have.

In-house or out?

Next, analyze your physical assets to see whether they meet your needs for DR.

Here are some key points to explore:

  • Do you have all the hardware components for disaster recovery?
  • Do you have the money to buy the hardware if you don't have the components? The most expensive part would be an off-site DR data center.
  • Assess the thoroughness of your DR plan. A huge disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, can devastate cities and states. It could cripple your main IT site and your off-site DR center, and it prevents staff from getting to either location. Remote access to both sites could be futile if they're under water or in rubble.

Outsourcing advantages

If you conclude that you don't have or can't afford the resources to implement your DR plan, outsourcing is an excellent option. The benefits far outweigh the downsides:

  • It's quick -- Outsourcing DR allows you to completely restore your business to its pre-disaster condition. A company can be back in business within 48 hours or less after a disaster.
  • It's simple -- Backing up data and replicating applications and operating systems is done via the Internet.
  • It's affordable -- Products can cost as little as a few thousand dollars per year.

Of course, the Internet has made it all possible, encouraging small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in particular to outsource DR instead of relying on tape backup to back up critical data.

Tape-based DR

Tape backup systems need to be well-managed, or they are basically useless. Plus, in a post-disaster scenario, if the server and tape drive have been destroyed the tape is useless.

To use the tape, you would need to buy a server compatible with your software, and it would need a tape drive that is compatible with your tape. Then, you'd have to load the server software and application programs and reload your data. Just getting the right server could take days or weeks.

Internet-based DR

Realizing the inadequacies of tape and the tight budgets of smaller companies, a number of vendors have created Internet-based DR and backup tools.

One example of an affordable product comes from Connecting Point, a Las Vegas-based provider. It provides a service called Managed Restore, which enables SMBs to back up data and programs across the Internet for a few hundred dollars per month.

Connecting Point's backup servers are replicated at service provider Allconnected Inc., in Simi Valley, Calif.

If a disaster were to happen, Connecting Point would quickly restore a company's critical programs and data to its servers. An SMB employee would just log on and run the programs from any location through an Internet connection.

Disaster recovery systems and services may be costly for SMBs, but if you consider the value of the data you would lose if disaster strikes, no DR system would cost too much.

Herman Mehling is a freelance writer based in San Anselmo, Calif. He can be reached at hermanmehling@sbcglobal.net.


This was first published in August 2007

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