Six tips to protect critical information

Disaster recovery planning is not just available for the big boys. Existing data protection technologies can be used to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in need quite affordably today.

Still, according to Stephen Lawton, senior director of strategic marketing at Acronis Inc., a specialist in storage management software, SMBs must also have the correct policies and procedures in place to get their data back up and running or they run the risk of going out of business.

Lawton says SMBs must be aware of a broad number of technology and business issues:

  • Make sure you have backup that you can restore: Backup is essentially the copying of live data so that it can be restored in the event of a crash or a failure that would cause the loss or corruption of the primary data. While this is a fundamental component of business continuance, the most important requirement for a backup is that the resulting image can be restored to either the same hardware (that crashed) or dissimilar hardware. Anything less will not ensure the integrity of the data or provide for rapid and simple recovery.
  • Disasters come in all sizes; be ready: A disaster is any unplanned interruption of computing resources that the IT director or SMB owner deems unacceptable. It is purely subjective. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to disaster recovery. “Let’s say you’re a 24/7 Web site and you’re doing business all the time and everything you have is on the site,” says Lawton. “A disaster can be a 10-minute interruption during the day.” However, a retailer with a physical presence whose Web site lists the goods it sells and offers a map to the facility, “if that site is down for a day or two it would certainly be an inconvenience, but it might not be a disaster.” Companies must plan for the recovery of systems first by prioritizing resources and creating backup schedules to match the maximum allowable downtime for any given server.
  • Disk? Yes. Tape? Not so much: With high-capacity and high-performance disk drive systems decreasing in price and rising in resiliency, there has been a major shift in the backup media of choice. “I remember in the ’80s all the stories that said ‘tape is dead,'” says Lawton. “The tape manufacturers loved them because every time they came out they sold more drives. Today new tape installations are decreasing,” says Lawton. Tape still has its place, but more users are moving to disk because of the convenience and speed. While it makes sense for many companies to use tape for archiving, every year they have to put each tape onto a machine and run it fast forward, back and forth, or the tape will start to decompose. “There’s a lot of cost involved in maintenance and staff time, and you have to constantly ask yourself if the tape drive you bought is still being made, or whether you have to buy one or two more complete drives just so you have parts,” says Lawton.
  • Protect corporate laptops: Although most companies have implemented solutions for protecting their enterprise data, according to Acronis, more than 60 per cent of all corporate data resides in workstations and laptops that are “notoriously under-protected.” Using tools such as hidden partitions on laptops to save images of the systems can be an excellent way of averting a data disaster on the road. If your office is in Eastern Canada but you’re in the U.S. at a tradeshow and you pick up a virus or install a piece of software that wipes out your hard disk, you’re not going to be next to your server, says Lawton, so you can’t go back to it to get your data. Instead, using technology from the company, a separate program could boot before Windows in the event of a crash and provide a menu that asks if you want to restore the image (of your hard disk). Depending on the amount and nature of your data the entire laptop can be back to good working condition in a matter of minutes or hours.
  • Be virtual: The benefits of using virtual machines in a large data center are numerous, but SMBs can benefit from these emerging technologies as well, Lawton says. “You can take a single chassis and you have multiple drives in that chassis and create virtual machines using either VMware or Microsoft Virtual Server. Now the software thinks it has the resources of a computer all to itself, so you could be running the equivalent of multiple machines with just one set of hardware,” he says. “The benefit is you can consolidate your servers and you can eliminate some of your hardware.” In fact, both VMware and Microsoft are offering a lot of their virtual technology free — a definite boon for the SMB, says Lawton. “What a way of testing out new technologies without having to spend a fortune on hardware.”
  • Just like a boy scout, be prepared: Having your people as well as your systems in place is critical. Your business should have centralized management, offer a single system interface, provide automated backup and client file restoration, and allow unattended remote server restoration. This allows your staff to be as effective as possible and be prepared if disaster strikes.

Stephen Lawton is senior director of strategic marketing at Acronis Inc. of Burlington, Ma.

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