Backups vs. a Disaster Recovery Plan

How long could you afford to be out of business?  That may seem to be a strange question to many of you.  But this is one of the questions that should keep you up at night.  Look at the folks in Oklahoma City this past spring.  Do you remember all the businesses affected when Hurricane Sandy hit?  What would you do if something out of your control happened to your business?

Of course, it is not just you to consider.  How long could your employees go without a paycheck?  How long could your clients go without your services, and how long would they?  How many would you lose to competition?  What you need is a plan.  We call these Disaster Recovery Plans.  The goal of this is to put together a step by step guide that you can follow that will allow you to have all the software and files available for your use as quick as possible after a disaster.

Now you are running backups every night, but that is just a first step.  Running backups is necessary.  It is a great habit to have.  But to where are you backing up your data?  If it is not to an offsite location, you may still be in trouble.  A tornado isn’t going to destroy your servers, but leave your external backup drive behind.   What are you backing up?  Are you sure you are backing up the right files?  You must backup those files that will allow the easiest restoration of your programs to a usable state.

So we need to make sure there is a backup set stored away from your office.  This brings up another important question; how much of your data can you afford to recreate?  This depends somewhat on the business you run.  A medical office, for example, would be hard pressed to recreate all the patient notes a doctors records throughout a day.  A much less data intensive business might only have a handful of transactions to recreate.  This will determine both how often you run backups and where you are storing the data.  Some businesses are almost backing up data in real time.  This is expensive and unnecessary for most businesses.  Once a day is usually all that is necessary.  We also recommend doing a full .iso image of your server and any critical workstation once a week.  This is essentially a snapshot of the system.  We do recommend backing up to the cloud.  Prices for cloud backups have become very affordable.  Your data is safely stored offsite.

Another item most owners fail to address is software.  You buy a program, load it, and the original software goes…  Well, most business don’t know.  You need to gather all of your software together and store it somewhere safe like a fireproof safe, or a bank safety deposit box.  For any programs you obtained by downloading, make sure you record the activation codes and store them with the rest of the software.  Without the original software, you will be put in the position of purchasing new copies should you need to replace the hardware.

The last item you need to plan for is the hardware.  Make sure you have a comprehensive list of computers, monitors, printers, routers, copiers, etc. for your insurance company.  As far as replacing the hardware there are several options, depending on how long you can afford to be down.

Having a new server built from scratch can take a week or longer.  Your IT company needs to gather all the parts and then get access to your .iso image to load the new server.  You will have to pay for this option out of pocket probably well before your insurance settlement arrives.  You can also have a backup server ready in a separate location ready for use.

The other option is to use a virtual server.  This is space set up in the cloud that emulates your server.  While this option may be a bit expensive at the moment (prices are coming down quickly) it also offers the quickest option for you to be back running.  All you have to do is take a laptop to the nearest coffee shop with WiFi access and access the server as if you were at the office.  It is fairly easy to set up synching between the actual and virtual servers so you are always ready to go.

Of course, your situation will be unique.  We strongly recommend bringing in both your IT partner and your accountant as you develop these plans.

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