The 4 Basics for Preventing Tech Calamities No Business Can Afford

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We are warned about this all the time. Stuff happens. And while you can’t really predict or control nature, you can control (at least partly) the effect it has on your business. You don’t want to let a natural disaster, human error or even a security breach lead to the destruction of your company.

In a 2013 Ponemon Institute study, 91 percent of respondents reported having experienced “unplanned downtime” in the last two years. Although that’s not a shocking statistic to those who may work in the cloud arena, what is alarming is the fact that an estimated 30 percent of organizations that experience a severe outage never actually recover.

Related: 5 Steps for Managing Disaster Recovery for Your Business

That’s why it’s imperative to do due diligence and prevent downtime before disaster strikes. One of the prevailing concerns for business owners is their data — whether that's intellectual property for internal use, or sensitive customer data such as home addresses and Social Security numbers. Your precious data must be protected and, more importantly, recoverable.

Here are my top four ways a business can prevent downtime and protect their company’s data. 

1. Plan ahead. The best defense against IT downtime is to have a solid business continuity plan in place that ensures maximum uptime even in the face of disaster.

A good business continuity plan starts with identification of your company's critical IT systems. Determine both how long IT systems can be down before the business is impacted, otherwise known as recovery time objective (RTO) and  the maximum tolerable period during which data might be lost due to downtime, known as the recovery point objective (RPO).

RTO and RPO are critical. Businesses can’t afford to be offline for even a couple of hours. Some businesses can’t afford to be offline a couple of minutes! A recent study by The Ponemon Institute found that the average cost per minute of unplanned downtime is now $7,900 — up a staggering 41 percent from $5,600 per minute in 2010. When Amazon’s website went down, the e-commerce giant lost an estimated $66,240 per minute of downtime. Few of us can afford to lose that much.

A business continuity plan is a living document. Test your plan regularly, evaluate how reliable it will be if you have to respond to an incident or crisis and update it with necessary improvements. Your business continuity plan should be updated at least once a year and whenever there are changes in your business, such as your location.

Related: 3 Disaster Recovery Strategies That Spur Innovation

2. Find the right disaster recovery solution. With a good continuity plan in place that also highlights the basic information needed, you can assess what disaster recovery solution is best suited to your business. Today’s businesses can choose from a broad spectrum of solutions, but understanding the pros and cons of each is critical.

For example, backup-only solutions ensure data is safe but if there is an urgent need to process the data, and your business continuity plan requires a critical system to be back up in minutes (or hours), a data backup-only strategy will never meet those objectives. Similarly, while recovery solutions are all about being able to recover data not all address the need for recovering servers and applications to process that data.

Businesses also have options with regard to whether their disaster recovery solution is appliance-based or cloud-based. Appliance-based disaster recovery works best for those businesses with a co-location, while cloud-based disaster recovery is more flexible, since it does not require a co-location.

Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS), and hybrid cloud solutions, specifically, are popular with businesses that require instant system recovery. These are perfect for midmarket businesses that can’t afford, or don’t want to maintain, a co-location site.

The best of these solutions go beyond simple backup and recovery to actually restore data, applications and systems in a single step. They take incremental snapshots of servers so that archives are constantly updated and assets are instantly restored. Better yet, some even offer on-demand and automatic testing that reduce system downtime when performed regularly.

3. Backup plan. Small-business owners must think outside the proverbial box when it comes to implementing these types of solutions. Hybrid-cloud solutions have emerged as the less-expensive and less-complex alternative to the tape and disk backups that have traditionally been used by small and midsized businesses.

4. Testing. A recent study by the Aberdeen Group indicates that, depending on the maturity of their recovery operations, organizations can experience up to 4.4 business disruptions per year, with restore times ranging from one hour to more than nine hours.

Testing your backup solution is imperative to minimizing risk of downtime. Regular testing reveals any number of changes to a company’s network that could inhibit the recovery of data, applications and systems should there be an unexpected IT failure. These changes can include added storage, new security patches and modified or removed applications. Backup corruption and human error add to the snags that are revealed with weekly testing, and can include tape corruption and incorrect setup of backups.

While testing with tape or disk backup solutions is complex and cumbersome, automatic, on-demand testing afforded by a hybrid cloud solution offers a simpler alternative.

The livelihood of your company is at stake. Implement these four steps and ensure your business won’t experience any downtime.

Related: How to Be Ready for Anything

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