Lessons from Hurricane Season: Prepare Your Small Business for a Data Disaster

License: Creative Commons image source

License: Creative Commons image source


Disasters like the recent Superstorm Sandy demonstrate just how fragile our physical world can be. Just look at the business side of its aftermath: offices closed and inaccessible for days, if not weeks; laboratory research destroyed; computer systems scrubbed clean by the hurricane’s wind and water. It may seem unlikely to happen to your organization, but what if a disaster did happen? In too many cases, the results would be devastating.

Companies are storing sensitive and essential information on computers more than ever before. For companies whose data is all stored in physical units — including their backup drives — immense devastation lies ahead if this physical data becomes lost, corrupted or otherwise destroyed. In some cases, a business may never fully recover.

That can all be avoided by taking a few simple, preventative steps. The first step requires backing up your most essential data on the virtual cloud. The second step demands that your organization develop an effective and comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

Embracing cloud backup

A number of organizations have already moved their backup — if not their day-to-day operations — to the cloud. It makes perfect sense: Storage on the cloud is inexpensive, scalable and immune to the physical threats that could compromise your in-house data. In many cases, cloud hosts also provide cloud-based IT support (like Rackspace), eliminating your reliance on in-house IT at a fraction of the cost.

Even if you’re determined to maintain physical backup at your office and/or another location, it makes sense to maintain an additional backup on the cloud. This resource can be irreplaceable in a variety of emergency settings, such if you have to access data remotely or even if you have to set up operations in an entirely new location. On-site backup offered through the cloud will provide a level of security from data loss that no physical backup can match.

Developing a disaster recovery plan

Backing up is a great first step, but it shouldn’t be your last. To fully prepare yourself for a disaster, you need to develop a disaster recovery plan. This should be folded into the business’s larger continuity plan and needs to address a range of scenarios and details regarding disaster recovery.

For example, you need to try and evaluate how much online downtime your company can handle. For a primarily online retailer, this will be much more critical to business revenues than a business that primarily does its work away from the Web. You should use this assessment to guide your backup efforts and other downtime prevention — the more vital the Internet is to your business, the more you need to work to minimize that downtime.

You should also have a plan in place to get the most essential business functions up and running as fast as possible, whether that means setting up temporary hosting elsewhere, turning a living room into a makeshift office or whatever else is needed to get the business operating at some level. Again, the definition of “minimum operating level” will depend on the size of your business, its needs and its customers.

Finally, you’ll need to understand your backup and recovery protections and how quickly they can get your computer system back online. If you’re storing on the cloud, your cloud host may be able to provide valuable information in this regard.

Too many businesses set aside disaster recovery planning, figuring they have time to address the issue at a later date. But that’s the thing about disasters: They can strike without warning. If you’re prepared, you’ll be able to respond quickly and minimize the negative toll these emergencies can have on an organization.

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