Key disaster recovery technology concerns for smaller businesses include data backup and recovery, data protection, information security, telecommunications and data access. While some SMBs may have an IT environment that includes an equipment room with servers, phone system, cable racks, carrier interconnection points, power supplies and access control systems, many others will not. Regardless, the SMB must ask itself "What would we do if our technology was unusable or destroyed?"
If a disaster occurs, and the SMB's office space is still accessible, it may be necessary to have additional hardware (e.g., backup servers) available, alternate phone service (e.g., cell phones, Blackberrys), and backup copies of applications and critical data. If alternate office space is not available, employees may have to work from home, or alternate office space may be available. But the technology must be functioning for these strategies to work. Again, this is no different from what larger firms may face; it's just on a much smaller scale.
Therefore, SMBs must decide on a business recovery strategy such as working from home or working from an alternate office. Next, the firm must be able to recover critical infrastructure assets quickly. This usually means that alternate infrastructure elements must be available to reconfigure and restart business operations. Two cost-effective strategies for this goal involve off-site access to data recovery facilities and voice communications.
Data backup and recovery for SMBs
The traditional approach of backing up data to tape and storing it in an alternate facility may be acceptable, but other options are available. For example, Prevalent Networks offers a product called BC on Demand that eliminates tapes by replicating critical data continuously, saving it to a secure off-site data center. This method reduces the chances of losing critical data and boosts the speed of data backup. The cost for BC on Demand is less than $500/month for a basic configuration.
There are also many data backup software packages SMBs can choose from. Options are available for Microsoft Small Business Server, Netware, Linux and Windows, and the software supports from one to 1,000 servers.
For communication solutions, voice communications and hosted voice communications systems offer a fast, low-cost option for SMBs. An example of this is Virtual PBX, which offers service packages that include phone extensions, toll-free numbers and even call center features, for as low as $100/month.
Other disaster recovery strategies for SMBs: Cloud DR and outsourcing
Cloud disaster recovery services are a fast-growing, cost-effective option for disaster recovery that use the Internet and specialized companies as the foundation of a "virtual data center." Major companies like Double-Take Software Inc. and SunGard offer cloud-based DR solutions. However, for SMBs on a budget, there are companies like Stratonomic that offer services as low as $300/month.
Since cost is a major concern for many SMBs, it's also worthwhile to consider managed service offerings for disaster recovery, such as outsourced disaster recovery or electronic data vaulting. The decision to pursue strategies like these will typically be influenced by service availability and capacity, monthly costs and expenses associated with disaster recovery plan activation. At the same time, keep in mind that it's essential to keep the DR process as simple as possible for SMBs. Strategies like these may be useful, but also may complicate the DR process more than the firm can handle or afford.
DR planning considerations for SMBs
SMBs that have more than one office can utilize space, if available, for disaster recovery. Even something as simple as using space at another address to store a backup server, additional phones and backup tapes, can provide low-cost business continuity/disaster recovery. And if employees at one location have to evacuate, the other site(s) can be used to temporarily house them. Even facilities where multiple firms share office space offer BC/DR possibilities. For example, conference rooms at these sites may be rented to provide emergency office space.
Regardless of size, SMBs have many technology options for business continuity and disaster recovery. The key is to recognize that the firm needs to be protected from the unexpected. Once that has occurred, careful planning and use of technology can ensure that the firm will survive and continue operations.
About this author: Paul F. Kirvan, FBCI, CBCP, CISSP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He is also secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA Chapter.
This was first published in February 2010