Backup, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

If you are a small business owner, or work in a small business and have an interest in keeping the I.T systems running and protected then read on. 

If you’re not sure what a disaster looks like then just think about the impact on your business  if your I.T systems were not accessible for days or weeks. How much financially does the business stand to lose in that period and how long can you keep running ? 

I am writing this based on the experiences I have had as an I.T professional and business owner working in the small and medium-sized sector over the last 15 years. I want to share some experiences, practical knowledge and best practices with you from an I.T perspective. 

Backup History 

For most small companies (those less than 100 employees for example) there is not a dedicated I.T professional, generally it is someone within the business who admitted they had an interest in computers and I.T. That person became the focal point for problems and before they knew it they were responsible for changing backup tapes, moving PC’s between desks, liaising with I.T suppliers and asking their colleagues if they rebooted the PC  after something went wrong. 

Generally the backups were run overnight and when the office was closed. This meant that the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) was often the last working day. These backups were often to tape devices because they were easy to carry and store out of the office with their durable nature and (fairly) compact size. We saw some companies start with CD’s and DVD’s but that really passed very quickly due to the low storage capacities. We moved through to USB storage disks because of the low cost and high capacities but those suffered from reliability and durability when moved offsite each day they were also fairly large and didn’t fit nicely into a pocket or handbag. 

Initially the DR and BC approach for a small business was really a backup and restore process, followed by a lengthy period of reloading applications operating systems and applications. This had to occur before we got to the restore of data which in many cases was 5-6 hours followed by additional recovery steps. This meant that the total time to get the system back online the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) was measured in days. 

 At this stage of development most small companies were happy to settle for this but over the last five years I have seen more and more small companies considering DR and BC as a valuable insurance policy. The problem has been that to do it effectively was always too expensive. For a large enterprise company such as a bank, having a separate building with standby servers that were replicated live was affordable(although expensive) but way beyond the finances of the small company.

Key Technology Changes 

The two main changes that have simplified this process to a point that small companies can have a Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity plan is the Virtual server and availability of  high-speed Internet. 

I will write something about virtualisation later and its impact and benefits on the small business but for now just accept that your server systems may be considered just as a few files on the server (albeit big ones). Moving these files on to different hardware has become easy so your systems are now portable either on tapes , disks or over the Internet. 

The introduction of higher speed Internet connections for small businesses typically the “Fibre Broadband”  services has meant that more companies were able to look at Online Backups as an alternative. This hasn’t replaced tapes and USB drives  entirely but it has complemented them. We really see the online backup now as the offsite copy of the data, but often used in conjunction with an onsite storage and backup solution to provide a complete service. 

Things are still moving forward and we have more cloud solutions now, so these are already based out of the office, these have their own concerns and I will talk about these later.

Today’s Solution  

We are now in the position where we can offer customers a tailored backup and DR solution ranging from in-house systems to the cloud.

 So this is how it works. 

  1. Review:  We review your systems, this is really key, we need to understand how you work and the importance of each part of your system to the business. 
  2. Virtualise: We run your systems on a virtual server(s), so they are easy to recover.
  3. Backup: We back this up to a secure remote location on a regular basis. This could be daily , twice daily etc. (also an option for a 4G router if your broadband fails)
  4. Test: We test your online backups each month.
  5. Practice: We simulate and practice the recovery of your systems at least once a year.
  6. Recovery: In the event of a disaster or extended outage where you know that it won’t be possible to get the systems running in time then we restore your systems to dedicated standby  servers. We bring the systems to you , this may be your office, home , alternate location and get things running again. 
  7. Review: Finally, we review regularly and after system changes.

So importantly what does it cost? This is nearly always the first question, as everyone has a budget. This is dependent on your business and your systems but for a small company with a single server.