Business Perspectives

March 8, 2012

How to protect your business data from a disaster

Spring is just around the corner and with it, tornado season.

Spring is just around the corner and with it, tornado season.

Although disasters can happen to your business any day of the year, the idea of a significant interruption to your business never seems more likely than right now. Only 10 months ago, an EF-5 tornado devastated the Joplin community. What impact would a tornado or other catastrophe have on your business?

According to the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, D.C., 93 percent of companies that lose their data for 10 days or more file for bankruptcy within one year of a disaster. That begs the question: How long can your company operate without access to its data?

For a financial institution or a medical provider, the answer is not very long. Some businesses can work from a remote location for days and weeks, needing only a laptop and a phone. Your backup and disaster recovery process – two separate but related processes – should be designed accordingly.

Backup is the daily process that allows you to restore your data in the event of a service outage or software or hardware failure. Disaster recovery includes your backup process, but expands on it to include how quickly you want your data back, how you’ll get to it and even where you will work in the event of a disaster.

Two measurements help us evaluate backup and disaster recovery technologies for our business: The Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and the Recovery Time Objective (RTO).

The IT industry defines RPO as the age of data that is acceptable to restore. For example, if you back up your data to a tape drive and that process runs at 10 p.m. each night, then your RPO is 10 p.m. yesterday. If we have a disaster today, the “freshest” data that you can restore for your business is 10 p.m. last night.

For some businesses, that’s perfectly acceptable. But can you imagine what would happen if your bank had to restore your checking account transactions to 10 p.m. last night and lose everything that happened today? And, what if the tape from last night’s backup failed or was lost? Then the data restored would be two days old.

Three key shifts in the IT industry impact your RPO and RTO.

The first is the “cloud,” which is best described as services on the Internet that you pay for according to need. Storing your data there can greatly improve both your RPO and RTO, but don’t forget, true disaster recovery includes access to the cloud where your data is stored and how long it would take to obtain a copy of it.

The second shift we really like is a move toward “Continuous Data Protection.” This collection of technologies allows backups to occur as frequently as every 15 minutes, greatly improving your RPO. If there is a problem with the backup from 15 minutes ago, you can roll back another 15 minutes.

The last and most promising shift is something called “virtualization.” This technology allows for your entire computer or server to be just a big file running inside special software on another computer or server. When you back up that one big file regularly, you have the ability to make your server truly portable and reduce the amount of time it takes to recover in the event of a disaster.

There are even services available today that blend all three of these shifts to give you a 15-minute RPO and an RTO of less than an hour by recovering to a server that’s hosted in the cloud.

Although your IT staff or service provider can make recommendations, only you can determine an acceptable RPO and RTO for your business. And then, like the fire drills we all had in school, test it.

Occasionally restore a sample file from your backup drive or tape. Ask your IT service provider to rehearse a disaster with you. Explore what equipment you would need if your building was destroyed, how long it would take to get here and where you would operate from.

And hopefully the biggest disaster any of us will have to deal with is a file deleted by mistake that is easily recovered.

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