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Disaster recovery plan or bust

To weather unexpected disasters, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need plans that maximize their ability to recover as quickly as possible. The big challenge

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for SMBs is to do so affordably and manageably.

Whatever you do, don't do nothing. SMB IT pros who think they don't need or can't afford an effective disaster recovery (DR) plan should reconsider. Just think of the value of the data that could be lost.

A plan that protects company data and applications can mean the difference between staying in business and going bust.

The outsourcing option

Many SMBs, lacking the manpower to internally create and implement a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, turn to vendors that specialize in backup and restoration. The benefits of outsourcing are threefold:

  1. It's quick. Complete restoration of your data and applications usually happens within 48 hours.
  2. It's simple. Backing up data and replicating applications and operating systems are done via the Internet.
  3. It's affordable. Outsourcing DR can cost as little as a few thousand dollars per year.

At the same time, however, there's no reason why an SMB cannot manage its own basic and inexpensive disaster recovery plans -- including basic backup of data, applications and operating systems -- with the right planning and technologies.

Keep DR in-house

To create an effective DR plan, you must first assess the business impacts and risks of a disaster, and then create a disaster recovery framework around what you find.

Many companies build their frameworks around recovery time objective, the maximum amount of time a company can wait to restore data after a disaster, and recovery point objective, a target for how current the data should be.

SMBs should also adopt IT systems that make disaster recovery easier. For example, you could consolidate servers and data, virtualize servers and networks, or implement a storage area network (SAN) or other storage method that enables fast archiving and data restoration. Having SANs in multiple sites also makes data immediately available without the need to recover or synchronize it.

Simple steps to stay ahead of disaster

There are also simple steps SMBs can take to prepare for the worst. For starters, every SMB should use surge protectors and uninterruptible power supplies. SMBs can also invest in backup generators and should have adequate fire alarms and extinguishers on hand.

A plan that protects company data and applications can mean the difference between staying in business and going bust.

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Also, ditch the tape. Tape backup is flaw-ridden and time-consuming. Tape needs to be well-managed, otherwise it's virtually useless. Plus, a tape will do you no good in a post-disaster scenario if the server and tape drive have been destroyed. Instead, consider USB flash drives, secondhand servers and CD burners, all excellent and affordable backup options.

Other important elements of a disaster recovery plan include maintaining communication channels with your colleagues; preparing employees for long, stressful days following a disaster; and testing your DR system at least once -- but preferably twice -- per year.

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


This was first published in October 2007

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