IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

Disaster recovery planning, ask questions before disaster strikes.

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

As a business owner, I suspect you wonder if your company could survive a fire, flood or a data disaster. The US Small Business Administration came out with some scary data last year; 90% of small businesses do not survive a fire/flood disaster.   Certainly it is impossible to predict what the next disaster will be, but it's easy to prepare for, especially if you have an effective data backup plan. When it comes to data backup planning there are a few key metrics that you as the owner need to be aware of.  In this blog I will show you what questions you need to be asking and why you need to know the answers.  The survivability of your business might depend upon it.

There are essentially two key questions you need to be talking to your IT employee or your outsourced IT Managed Service Provider about when it comes to data backup plans. The first is how often are the files being backed up: measured in weeks, days, hours or seconds?  This is important because it will give you a sense as the owner just how much data could be LOST if your server failed at any given moment and you had to go back to the last good data backup copy to restore the server and it’s applications from that point in time.

If you are backing up on a per minute basis, you stand to lose very little data.  But on the other hand if you are backing up daily, once a week or once a month, you could lose up to a whole month of company data. Take a look at this graphical representation: 

 RPO Lost Data resized 600

Note the slower the backups occur typically there is a longer amount of time between the backups. A slower back up media (tape) could possibly equate to losing more data.  The inverse of that statement is also true; the faster your backup media (disk based backups), the more often you are likely to be backing up.  With more frequent backup copies, the less company data you can possibly lose during a disaster.  The takeaway point here is the time between your last successful back up and the disaster is the time in which company data is at risk and will be lost.

The second question you need to know is once a data disaster does occur, how long will it take to restore your most recent backup copy on a new server?  It’s important to remember that during the restoration time line, your business applications will not be available.  So ask yourself, “Can your business run for a prolonged period of time without your ERP application or your CRM or accounting software?”  Do you need all of your applications immediately or just a few key apps?  Can you manufacture or provide your company’s service without your software applications up and running?

There are three related questions you need to ask: First, where will a new server come from and how long will it take to get it? You can’t begin to restore a backup until you have good hardware to restore to.  Second, how long will it take to restore the basic Server Operating System?  Finally, how long will it take to restore your application and data on top of the operating system?  Unfortunately the restoral process is completed in a serial fashion: first the hardware, then the operating system(s) and finally the application itself which stretches out the time it takes to recover.  Bear in mind, your business is running in a manual mode during the recovery time.

If you choose to place your backups on a slow media like Tape, your restoration process could take weeks, or if you decided to spend more money on a faster media (on location disk or cloud based disk) the recovery process will be much faster.  But the point is you need to know how long it takes, and then decide if that time line is actually appropriate for your business.  Plus you should plan ahead and determine the logical order in which you want to restore your applications. 

 RTO or lost time and mannual processing resized 600

There are some great business takeaways here: my clients often want to dive into technology discussions.  I prefer to hold a business conversation first.  How much data can you afford to lose if there is a data disaster? How long can your business be without your key applications? Have your employees been taught how to work without their key application in a manual mode?  Data backup planning is much more about your business approach than it is about selecting a backup media technology.

Start Today Idea: As part of your business continuity plan, you need to figure out how much company data you can afford to lose should you have a data disaster.  Then calculate how quickly you need to recover the last backup.  With this planning completed; you can begin to design a data backup task list, a backup rotation schedule and a backup restoral test schedule.

Want to learn more about small business data backups, disaster recovery plans, and disaster recovery services? Sign up for our Free IT Webinar this month HERE.  Not ready to meet yet?  You can download a great free white paper about disaster recovery planning HERE.

Topics: data backups, disaster recovery planning

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