Let this fire be a warning for your business

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While everyone agrees that The Waldo Canyon fire was a terrible ordeal, it might serve to offer small business owners a valuable lesson, to back up their data at an off-site location.

A panicked client called me last Tuesday night after the fire lunged at Colorado Springs and devoured 350 homes. He wanted to know if I could remotely access his server to save data.

But by that time it was too late. His office power had been cut.

I recommended an offsite backup solution to him last year but it was an expense he wanted to trim. His business is not an exception.

Fortunately, the fire didn’t reach his business. If it had, he could be out of business and his employees out of work.

About 70 percent of companies go out of business after a major data loss, and 43 percent that close after a natural disaster never reopen. An additional 29 percent of those businesses close permanently within two years, according to the Gulf Coast Back to Business Act of 2007.

Loss of business income insurance does not typically cover financial losses unless structural damage is to blame.

Offsite backups are like the insurance that we hope we never need, regardless of whom you buy it from.

Every business owner knows they need that insurance, but too many never take the necessary steps to put it in place. Even companies that employ IT professionals can be caught with their guard down.

Doing it wrong

I recently spoke to a local company’s IT manager who has a five-server, 150 computer network. Their only backups were to an internal hard drive on each server. This offers several opportunities for disaster. Flood, fire or lightning are just a few things that could sink the ship.

Another local company’s disaster recovery solution amounts to backing up their dozen or so servers on tapes, which are stored onsite in a fireproof safe. Sounds good, except for the fact that most fireproof safes are designed to keep paper from burning, the tapes will likely melt, and never mind the fact that tapes have a high failure rate.

Doing it right

Requirements for backups vary by industry. Without getting technical, some basics that apply to all businesses are:

Back up your data onsite so that you can recover quickly in case of the most likely scenarios of hardware failure or user error.

An imaged based backup is ideal. Thanks to virtualization technology, these days a failed server can be back up and running virtually in minutes instead of days.

Also back up your data offsite. Industries that are regulated by government entities not only mandate that backup data be stored offsite, but also that data must be encrypted and some require that information to be stored at least 100 miles away. Even if your industry isn’t regulated, these are still good guidelines to follow.

Doing enough

Data backup is only part of disaster readiness. To use that data you need functioning servers, computers, power, internet connectivity, and premises for your staff to work in. This requires a “Business Continuity Plan.”

Here’s an example that just last week applied to businesses in Manitou Springs. What if your business’ area has been evacuated and the police or fire department was going to keep you out of it for days or even weeks? Could you still serve your customers? How will your employees work? These answers vary depending on type of business and whether or not you have remote access. What is your plan?

Many businesses rely on moving servers to the cloud. This route is certainly safer there than in your utility closet where many businesses banish their servers. However, this doesn’t work for every type of business and even then is only a part of the solution, but that’s a topic for another time.

Free resources for disaster readiness and business continuity planning are available on my company’s website: www.Amnet.net/disasterrecovery

Trevor Dierdorff is Chairman of the Middle Market Entrepreneurs group and CEO of Amnet, a Colorado based company that specializes in IT services and disaster recovery solutions for businesses with 10-200 employees.