Protecting business continuity with data back-ups

The United States Small Business Administration calls small businesses the heart of the U.S. economy. According to research by the Office of Advocacy, small businesses create the majority of the nation's new jobs and bring innovative ideas, products, and services to the marketplace. In 2006, there were nearly 27 million such organizations.

Needless to say, small businesses differ from their enterprise counterparts in many ways, from funding to infrastructure and staffing. At the same time, they also share some common challenges, including the need to ensure business continuity even in the wake of a disaster. After all, statistics paint a grim picture: half of all businesses never reopen after experiencing a catastrophic data loss and 90 percent close within two years, according to research firm Baroudi Bloor International.

What might cause significant data loss for a small business? Anything from a natural disaster to hardware or software failure, or even a simple human error. Every minute that vital information or services are not accessible can put a ruinous strain on the bottom line of a "lean-and-mean" small business.

As a result, a growing number of today's small companies are establishing and implementing a disaster recovery strategy. With best practices in place to guard against data loss and system downtime, these organizations protect business continuity and ensure rapid recovery from system crashes and other potentially disastrous events.

Back It Up

Data drives small business, and the ability to keep it always available is critical for a business' success. To that end, organizations must regularly back up their data, using a tiered approach that saves data to disk as well as to tape for short- and long-term purposes. For quick recovery, disk is often the preferred media. For long-term storage and data archiving, tape is an effective option. Both methods play a major role in the backup strategies for many organizations.

Today's most advanced backup tools for small businesses provide continuous data protection for an organization's most valuable information, whether that data is on a Windows file server, a desktop or laptop, or a Microsoft Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, or other application server. New cutting edge tools have revolutionized data protection by eliminating backup windows and enabling small businesses to recover data in seconds. For example, while traditional approaches for backing up Exchange required a full database backup and "brick level" mailbox backups, these tools offer a full, incremental, or continuous backup of Exchange and enable restores to a granular level--including down to an individual email-from a single database backup pass.

Also, because many small businesses rely on users to manually backup business-critical data to a server, a number of backup tools extend continuous disk-based protection and recovery to desktops and laptops virtually anywhere, whether in the office or on the road. For example 12,000 laptops are lost in U.S. airports each week, and two-thirds are never returned according to a 2008 study by the Dell & Ponemon Institute. In addition to improving data protection and efficiency, this capability enables users to restore their own files and maintains synchronization between multiple desktops and laptop so that the most up-to-date file versions are available on each computer. Users can also specify the files, email folders, and email attachments to be excluded from backups.

On-demand and pay-as-you-go data backup and restore services are increasingly popular among small businesses and can be easily utilized from anywhere through a Web browser. Software as a Service protect all files that have been selected for backup, collecting only changes to files after the initial full backup, then encrypted them and send them to be backed up at a secure off-site facility. Data can be restored using an online browser-based interface. By using this model for backup and restores, small organizations obviate the expense and hassle of dealing with support contracts and software licenses and businesses can potentially forego on the physical infrastructure needed for backup, allowing focus on their core business.

Recover It Fast

After a disaster, businesses are often left with anxieties and pressures to recover data quickly. While prevention of data loss is a must, system recovery is equally important. Traditional recovery methods can be cumbersome, with manual system rebuilds from bare metal taking hours or even days. Small businesses must be able to recover from system loss or disasters in minutes. What's more, they need to be able to recover servers, desktops, or laptops to dissimilar hardware and in remote, unattended locations.

Consequently, many small businesses are also deploying system recovery tools that capture the operating system, applications, system settings, configurations, and files of a live system in a recovery point that can be saved to a wide variety of media or storage devices. An administrator can schedule how often data recovery points are created and can retain specific recovery points for different time periods in accordance with business needs.

Virtualization can help small businesses better leverage their disaster recovery strategy. With server virtualization technology, multiple operating systems can be run on a single server, which enables organizations to consolidate servers and make better use of existing hardware resources. This is particularly beneficial for organizations such as small businesses that typically lack a spare system to which to restore data.

Better yet, a growing number of disaster recovery tools actually streamline the process of converting physical recovery points to virtual servers, and vice versa. With these solutions, small business can easily and reliably convert entire systems at once or selective volumes at a time.

Finally, small businesses often work with a value-added reseller (VAR) in assessing the organization's disaster recovery strategy. These trusted, tech savvy advisors can offer invaluable guidance in selecting the most appropriate tools to support their client's disaster recovery efforts.

As today's data-driven global marketplace evolves, information volumes will continue to increase. At the same time, natural disasters, power outages, application failures, system crashes, and other potentially damaging events will likely remain a challenge for businesses of all sizes. Human error will never be eliminated. And downtime will likely become less rather than more acceptable.

Disaster recovery planning, in turn, will become a greater priority for small businesses as well as large enterprises. By leveraging next-generation data and system protection tools and service offerings, small businesses can prepare for disasters, allowing them to minimize downtime, and ensure efficient and rapid recovery.

Top 5 tips for developing a Disaster Recovery Strategy:

1. Document! -- Every element of your data recovery (DR) process is important. Make sure everything is documented and ensure it includes the locations of system and other critical disks and data. Key staff members-within IT and other areas of the organization-should be familiar with these documented storage locations.

2. Automate Processes -- Establish an automated system to notify critical staff of a disaster by text, phone or email. Train your staff on the system to perform basic DR/back-up tasks unsupervised. Symantec recommends enterprises have a complete disk-based data protection solution across all environments, offices and hardware.

3. Back It Up -- Backing up critical data seems like a no brainer. But if you neglect to do so, no matter how good your DR plan is it will be of no use. Don't just back it up-test it!

4. Protect from the Inside -- Internal theft is on the rise and usually undetected. Be sure to protect your company from random theft, vandalism and employee malice. Be aware of the data location, where it is sorted and where it is going. Place controls to automatically safeguard the data, according to corporate policy, like implementing a corporate policy that all traveling laptops are backed up.

5. Practice Makes Perfect...almost -- Practice your DR plan on a quarterly basis, better yet, more frequently. This will strengthen your organization's skills, help you figure out more efficient logistics, work out kinks in your system and give you the confidence that your plan will work in testing.

About the author: Mike Inkrott is the executive product manager for backup solutions, part of Symantec Corporation's Data Protection Group.

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