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Advice for avoiding a data disaster

For any business, no matter how large or small, the risk of losing business data is real, whether through a man-made or natural disaster, and it’s a reality that could strike at any moment.

While it’s difficult for businesses to put an exact value on stored data – whether it is the business’ customer and financial records, marketing databases, or email and personnel files, losing this sort of information can be a costly and time-consuming misfortune, and possibly could set the wheels of a company’s downfall into motion.

Even if the business is lucky enough to retrieve lost data, downtime can also be highly detrimental to the company’s performance, potentially resulting in lost sales, or for example the inability to manage day-to-day accounting.

Yet even in the digital era that we operate in, too few SMBs have plans in place to protect themselves against data loss, rather concentrating on protecting physical assets such as buildings and equipment.

The past year’s natural disasters around Australia, and indeed the world, have had a significant impact on business. While larger businesses usually have the ability to re-route work to their other offices, many small businesses tend to be caught out by the disruption to their day-to-day business dealings.

Research into data loss has shown that 60 per cent of companies that lose their data will shut down within six months of the disaster (The Cost of Data Loss, Harald Anderson); while companies that aren’t able to resume operations within ten days (of a disaster hit) are also not likely to survive (Strategic Research Institute).

So why are SMBs so inadequately prepared for data disasters – despite the recognised fact that data loss can be so disruptive? Many SMBs neglect to develop a disaster plan simply because they haven’t had the capacity to think about it, or perhaps they believe that a data disaster could not happen to them or that their business can withstand disaster without too much damage.

Small businesses should be aware that data backup technology and a well-defined data protection process can help them not only survive a disaster, but put them firmly on the front foot so as to either capitalise on new opportunities that may arise through events that take place or better assist in helping the broader community get back on their feet; they simply need to find the right solution that meets both their backup requirements and their budget. With the rise of cloud computing, small businesses can now look into safer ways to store their information. While onsite backups can be satisfactory for day-to-day recovery, it’s a good idea to consider an off-site data storage solution, as the data is stored far away from any disaster that might impact physical office space, whereas local tape and disk backup could be destroyed if a natural disaster hit.

Over the last couple of years, third-party cloud backup (such as solutions offered by Amazon, Dropbox or Flickr) have gained popularity with small offices and home users because of its convenience and ease-of-use. Capital expenditures for additional hardware are not required and backups can be run automatically without manual intervention.

So where do you start? Simple. First you need to work out and prioritise your IP (intellectual property) that you and your employees simply couldn’t do without if it wasn’t there tomorrow. Would your business processes stop without the ability to re-create the data you are currently using?  If so, then you need to make sure you have a process, the equipment and software to make the backup. Write a plan to follow to initiate the activity regularly and set reminders. Finally, find somewhere safe to store your information, and then test it regularly to make sure that both systems and processes are able to recover from a disaster if it ever occurs.

By taking action to protect valuable business data, small businesses can ensure they survive and thrive even in the event of a disaster.

– Mark Oakey is marketing manager, Storage Platforms at EMC Corporation ANZ.

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