Protecting Your Data, Protecting Your Business

By Paul Hrabal

There is no doubt that there is a new focus on business continuity and data protection. The impact of recent world events, coupled with an overwhelming dependency on electronic data in virtually every business sector has caused a majority of organizations to reexamine their data protection strategies.

For Fortune 500 companies, these aspects of disaster recovery planning often involve investing millions of dollars in completely redundant off-site systems and/or data centers. However, for thousands of smaller companies around the world, effective data protection is an equally daunting task.

In this article, we will look at some of the major aspects of corporate data protection and business continuity planning and explain why they are such crucial components of an enterprise’s overall disaster recovery strategy. Finally, we will discuss how managed service providers are offering companies simpler and more cost-effective options for protecting their data, guaranteeing the continuity of their business against future disasters.

Data: Protecting an Organization’s Most Important Asset: There are four primary assets needed to effectively operate an information system: facilities, hardware, network, and data. In the event of a disaster, hardware and networks can be replaced and facilities can be moved to a new location. With the exception of data, virtually every company system asset is replaceable.

Every organization has an indispensable core set of data. Whether it is payroll information, customer records, research, financial records, or email files, all corporate data is valuable and vulnerable to loss or irreparable damage. Data loss can result from any number of factors, such as:

  • Human error
  • Operating system or application software bugs
  • Hardware failure
  • Fire, smoke, or water damage
  • Power outages
  • Employee theft or fraud
  • Man-made disasters such as sabotage, hacking, or viruses
  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes

Any one of these factors can cause data loss, and the results can be catastrophic. It can result in the permanent loss of information or hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to repair the damage. Regardless of the cause, data disruption and loss poses a significant risk for any business. It has a negative impact in real dollars, lost opportunity, client dissatisfaction, and overall organizational image.

So what must companies to do preserve their data? They must have a plan that incorporates the following three components:

  • Backup: This is the process of copying important data and maintaining duplicate copies for restoration in case of data loss or damage. A variety of file versions are necessary to ensure that it is possible to restore the most recent usable copy of the data required. Protecting data backups offsite is a necessary precaution for disaster recovery, and multiple generations of backups provide the ability to recover to a particular point in time.
  • Archive: Archiving involves copying disk file systems and placing the copy (usually on tape) into long-term storage. Archives create a legally acceptable business history and can be used to free up hard disk space by allowing users to create an off-line version of static data or files and delete the online copy.
  • Recovery: Recovery is the process of recovering from an outage or disaster. In off-site vaulting of data, backup media is protected in a remote, secure location as part of the tape rotation scheme. This off-site media is available for system recovery if the on-site media is lost or damaged in a disaster.

Today, you don’t need to be one of the largest corporations in the world to have a best-in-class data protection strategy that incorporates all these components. Later, we will discuss the newer, cost-effective options available to organizations today. First, we’ll discuss how data protection ensures a company’s long-term viability through business continuity.

Business Continuity: Planning for the Worst

According to a 2001 survey by Gartner, technology purchasing decision makers cite disaster recovery and business continuity among their top five priorities. Business continuity is the process of providing for the continuation of critical business services regardless of any event that may occur. This means ensuring continuity of an organization’s data as well as its Web, database and file servers, and all of its business-critical applications. A business continuity plan is a critical aspect of an organization’s risk management strategy and is instrumental to its survival, should disaster occur. A comprehensive business continuity plan will help:

  • Protect and secure data
  • Shorten disaster recovery time
  • Improve organizational resilience
  • Reduce risk and exposure to loss
  • Decrease downtime
  • Enable compliance with regulatory and legal requirements

The objective of business continuity planning and data protection is to minimize the impact of a disaster upon an organization. So how do organizations deal with business continuity and data protection? You don’t need the resources of the Fortune 500 to develop a sound business continuity plan. Any company can be devastated if their data is lost or their servers go down. For companies with an eye on the bottom line, managed service providers offer an alternative solution.

Managed Service Providers: Disaster Recovery for the Rest of Us

Forbusinesses that do not maintain large data centers or IT staffs, data protection and business continuity can be cumbersome and error-prone. By some estimates, more than 12 million U.S. based businesses do not fully backup data or recover business data after a server crash.

Even companies that have data protection and business continuity plans in place often do not do an adequate job. Many do not have sufficient IT staff to adequately prepare for disaster recovery. In addition, traditional batch-style, tape-based backup continues to be a costly, labor-intensive process requiring frequent manual intervention and great posing potential for error. As a result, many organizations perform bulk server backup when they can and store tapes offsite even less frequently. In the event of a disaster, these companies are left trying to recover their businesses using data that is weeks, or even months, out of date.

Today, advances in data replication and security technologies combined with reduced bandwidth costs allow managed service providers to offer online backup, recovery, and electronic vaulting services to businesses with limited IT resources. Managed service providers offer data protection services remotely, including continuous online data backup, recovery, and electronic vaulting. Unlike traditional methods of data protection, where data is typically backed up every 24 hours at best, managed service providers offer continuous data backup, safeguarding an organization against data loss and helping them immediately recover and restore lost data in the event of a disaster.

By using a managed service provider, organizations retain front-end control of their data protection operations, while handing off burdensome back-end tasks such as server backup, device maintenance, tape management, and off-site removal and storage. Other benefits of using a managed service provider for data protection and business continuity planning include:

  • Simple and low-risk data removal: Data is no longer at risk of not being removed or mislaid during the removal process. A managed service provider utilizes low-cost Internet connections through a secured network connection to a backup server located in a protected off-site data center vault. Therefore, data is automatically and immediately sent off-site. Tape damage or mishandling as well as transportation issues are eliminated.
  • Safe and accessible data archiving: By using a managed service provider, data is never in an unsafe environment and is always accessible. A managed service provider addresses concerns over improper storage by protecting data off-site in a secure data center.
  • Reliable data recovery: Problems surrounding the recovery of data through traditional means such as the inaccessibility of current data and slow recovery are eliminated by using a managed service provider.
  • Ease of manageability: Managed service providers allow customers to manage their data protection process through a personalized Web management interface. This allows them to view the status of their data and initiate recovery from anywhere, through any Web browser. While the service provider assumes responsibility and automates back-end functions, users retain overall control of their data protection by creating customized backup policies, checking status, and initiating restore operations whenever needed.

Gartner estimates that two out of five companies that experience a disaster will go out of business in five years. Companies today can’t afford not to have a data protection and business continuity strategy as part of their overall disaster recovery plan. Managed service providers offer their clients solutions that won’t overburden their internal resources or tax their budgets, while giving them the protection and reliability that they need.

Paul Hrabal is President of U.S. Data Trust Corporation (www.usdatatrust.com). U.S. Data Trust provides fully managed online backup and recovery services for small to medium sized businesses.

[From Connection Magazine December 2004]

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