How to Keep Your Data from Blowing in the Wind

Last year, in the path of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, thousands of businesses realized too late how vulnerable their data was. Many businesses found themselves down for days, and some never recovered from the data loss.

With the 2006 hurricane season under way, company executives who remember the devastation from last year’s storms are taking steps to ramp up their emergency preparedness efforts by fortifying data storage and protection measures, and ensuring that their backup systems are adequate.

Organizations in regions unaffected by hurricanes may nevertheless be vulnerable to similar problems caused by anything from earthquakes to fires or blackouts. Last year’s destruction is waking them up to that realization, and firms that provide technologies to meet their needs are lining up to tout their software and services — many of which can be implemented within days or even minutes.

Offsite Backup

Business continuity planning begins with data restoration, and offsite data storage is now a must for business, said Mark Martin, CEO ofNetMass, which specializes in online backup, remote backup, system restoring and online file storage.

“Data is everything now. Protecting your data is the same as protecting your business,” Martin told the E-Commerce Times. “Even losing a few e-mails can carry a heavy price in terms of lost opportunity.”

Just imagine if a business loses all, or even some, of its important business data — accounts receivable, customer records, tax records, and other personnel and administrative documents,” he said. “Gartner has found that 40 percent of organizations that experience a disaster go out of business within two years. They may be understating things a bit.”

Many companies store their backup data on site, and if their actual facility is destroyed, the data goes with it. Backing up data at another location is a wise move not only to prepare for a natural disaster, but also to prevent total data loss in the event of hardware failures, computer viruses or accidental deletions.

“There is no gray area,” Martin said. “Backing up to the same location where your primary data is stored carries a number of inherent risks that most businesses now find unacceptable — especially when there is a more reliable alternative that can be updated as often as you wish.”

For a long time, backing up to magnetic tape was the only option for business. However, recovering data from tape is slow, and it must be physically moved off site in the event of a disaster. “With today’s higher bandwidth and the price of disk storage way down, there is no longer a reason to use a tape-based backup system,” Martin said.

Third-Party Assistance

Today, 90 percent of what happens doesn’t require company relocation, according to David Palermo, VP of marketing forSunGard Availability Services. If it does, companies like SunGard provide disaster recovery services, including infrastructure and staff in dozens of metro centers throughout the country.

Regardless of the situation, having assistance from third parties helps companies get up and running quickly, Palermo told the E-Commerce Times, and having a plan in place is key.

Recovery time should be included in the company’s objectives. “Some people can say, ‘I can live with data backup every five minutes,’ but if that’s a stock trade, you can’t lose a nanosecond of data. On e-commerce sites, every second you’re down, customers are going somewhere else,” he explained. “Companies need to decide how much time they need and how much they’re willing to spend.”

In the middle of all this technology planning, executives must not forget that people are as important as IT infrastructure, he added. “Have a backup of people. The last thing employees want to do is to leave their devastated homes and their families to move elsewhere to help their business recover.”

Last year not only provided companies with lessons for planning, but also gave many of these third parties incentives for coming up with special solutions for organizations that need them.

For example, e-mail security services providerAppRiver has partnered with the Florida Chamber of Commerce to launch the “Digital Disaster Preparedness” service for any company in the state with an Internet domain name. It is meant to protect and preserve e-mail traffic if an organization’s IT infrastructures are vulnerable to hurricane-related damage this season, through the end of November.

“E-mail is a core application for every business. When it’s down, it will impact the core of an organization,” Scott Cutler, AppRiver’s vice president of sales and marketing, told the E-Commerce Times. “Our geography keeps us out of risk for these types of situations. If we can’t deliver e-mail, we’ll automatically encrypt [it] so it can be delivered later when the service is up.”

Planning Ahead

The idea behind this offering is that when a three- to five-day cone of uncertainty exists during a named storm and companies start to get concerned about what might happen, they can have a backup plan for an e-mail system in a matter of minutes simply by going to AppRiver’s or the chamber’s Web site.

“There was so much trauma last year, and we go so [many] accolades from people that forgot we automatically encrypt [and store] their e-mail,” Cutler explained. “The peace of mind was the motivation.”

Once a company signs up for the service, AppRiver will monitor its e-mail server activity. If the receiving server is down, AppRiver will begin queuing the business’s incoming e-mail messages in one of its data centers until the servers are fully functioning or the company asks for its e-mail to be redirected elsewhere. Messages also can be made available online at the user’s request.

The process is just as simple with NetMass. Files and directories can be selected and restored with a few mouse clicks almost instantaneously, Martin explained. If an entire server needs to be restored, or large sections of data need to be restored, it may take minutes. In the event of a site disaster or other large-scale data disaster, clients may elect to have their data shipped directly to them or to a new site.

“With SMBs, there is a common assumption that enterprise-level disaster recovery is only available to large companies with lots of money and employees,” Martin said. “That was true at one time. But now, the two primary capital expenses associated with data backup — capacity and bandwidth — have become much cheaper. There is no longer a reason for any company, no matter how small, to not have remote backup.”

Read Part 2: “After the Storm: Communication Key to Full Recovery”

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