We never know what is around the next corner and it’s a fact of life that we all have our share of bad luck. Disasters happen, floods hit, storms knock out power lines, people you employ may turn out to be less trustworthy than you thought or a malicious hacker may decide that today’s the day he’ll break into your precious data systems. Any one of these scenarios can be a disaster for a small or medium business without the financial resources to cope with data loss or litigation. But luckily the fast moving world of technology is always looking at ways to mitigate disasters so you can prepare your business IT for whatever lies ahead.
For some time, it’s been only larger businesses that have had sophisticated recovery plans in place, storing their data in remote locations and replicating it so they have copies if hardware fails. But now there are many new ways for small or medium businesses to protect their most critical data without breaking the bank, but before we look at these, let’s look at exactly what disaster recovery is.
What is a disaster recovery plan?
Basically a disaster recovery plan is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan, or set of procedures or actions that will be followed by you and your staff during and after a crisis to ensure your business can continue to operate and that everyone has access to the critical resources they need to do their jobs. A crisis is anything that puts your operations at risk and could be physical threats like natural disaster or equipment failure, or a cyber attack or hack – all of which will bring your business to a halt.
So to protect your IT infrastructure and ensure stability and systematic disaster recovery, you need a polished and practised plan that offers:
- The minimum of disruption to your everyday operations
- Security of your data
- Backup systems that are reliable
- The ability to have mission-critical functions up and running fast
Any disaster recovery plan should take into account three main areas:
- Prevention to avoid any problems you can see coming in advance that can actually be prevented with the right measures.
- Anticipation to think about problems that you won’t be able to avoid and put measures in place to ensure you ride out the storm, (perhaps literally).
- Migration to manage the disasters as they are taking place and ensure they don’t have a huge negative impact on your business.
For most small businesses’ disaster recovery steps often include restoring your servers or mainframe hardware with backups, re-connecting private branch exchanges (PBX) or provisioning local area networks (LANs) to meet your immediate business needs. And there are different ways to go about this, so let’s take a look at the options out there for small and medium businesses like yours.
If you have already adopted cloud computing you don’t need to spend money on dedicated resources in case of a disaster. There’s no need for a secondary data centre, either. Your cloud provider will offer long-term data storage, often on a pay per use basis and will usually allow you to pay for this only when it’s needed or you are running a disaster preparedness test. This means you have lower costs and flexible recovery options that allow you to back up data even if you have to move to a new location. One of the downsides of backing up from the cloud is that it can take some time to fully recover data. Data duplication is good for improving backup speed but isn’t useful during a recovery process. And while using the cloud is always cheaper initially, the constant bills for data storage or archiving will add up over time. This is why it is recommended that you use the cloud to keep only the latest copy of data, as this will help control costs. This latest version of your working data is also the most useful in a disaster.
Another option that offers great flexibility for small and medium business disaster recovery is virtualisation. This is about so much more than cutting back on your physical servers but putting info into a data centre. You also have powerful tools that can be part of your disaster recovery plan. Some established players are promoting disaster recovery via virtualisation. These include VMware’s Site Recovery Manager Suite, Citrix XenServer Enterprise and Platinum which include live migration and Microsoft’s Hyper-V which can all cut a virtual machine over to new hardware.
This is a great way of speeding up your recovery time after a disaster as you are building up on a virtual machine rather than rebuilding an actual server from scratch. In fact, you can create an entire data centre that can be activated at the flick of the switch, giving you your precious data back. You only need a small fraction of the original hardware to host your entire infrastructure with virtualisation.
Server virtualisation when offered in combination with a remote copy of critical data means you enjoy faster Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) which is the maximum tolerable length of time a computer, system or network can be down after a disaster. You also benefit from Recovery Point Objectives (RPO – a measure of how much data you can afford to lose and the point in time to which lost data can be recovered) that are designed with your business in mind and tailored for your needs.
Managed Disaster Recovery
There’s nothing wrong with calling for help in a disaster, and many organisations are finding that they can’t use their small in-house IT staff, (often an overworked and multi-tasking individual) to deal with a crisis. So one option is to bring in a third party to focus on, manage and deliver your disaster recovery. Some of these firms are able to provide automated systems and data replication as well as the hosting of physical or virtual servers. This is sometimes called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS).
You can contract the service provider to provide failover to a cloud computing environment on contract or pay-per-use basis. It is useful for small and medium businesses who don’t have the expertise or experience to draw up, configure and test a disaster recovery plan for your business IT. DRaaS also means you don’t have to invest in and maintain your own disaster recovery environment. Of course, when signing on for such services you need to be sure that the provider can meet your defined recovery time and recovery point objectives.
Which is the best solution?
These days you shouldn’t presume that it’s enough to have data backed up and stored off-site when it comes to disaster recovery. This is not enough for an effective disaster recovery plan. You need to look at impacts of certain disasters and decide what processes you’ll need to take to recover. How fast you can get your business back on its feet is as important as regular backups. This means you need to incorporate regular testing and integration into your enterprise.
If you want to know more about this area or think you’d benefit from a managed disaster recovery solution, talk to us here at Empower IT Solutions.