It’ll never happen to you, right? But what if it does?

Disaster Recovery is a hugely important area of business technology, yet in the main only large businesses have a DR plan or systems in place to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster.   In my experience, most smaller businesses simply see Disaster Recovery as an unnecessary insurance policy – it’s hard enough in many cases to make sure standard backups are taken!  The fact remains…

Nobody cares about backup or Disaster Recovery until after they’ve suffered a loss of data.

But total business disaster is unlikely to happen to you, right?   Correct – the chances of a fire, flood, theft or other disaster are very slim indeed, and most businesses are very lucky.   Is luck enough to bet a business on though?

In May last year the worst did happen to a customer of ours at Systemagic.   The client suffered from a fire overnight on a Tuesday – the fire broke out on the ground floor of a 3 storey building and burned for just 10 minutes before the fire service put it out, yet the premises were gutted.  I went to the remains of the shop the morning after to assist with recovering what technology had survived, and I’m very proud to say that my Systemagic team had the client’s admin team back up and running by lunchtime, using a spare room at our offices.   This customer had invested in a number of disaster recovery options – backups were taken regularly and taken offsite, cloud storage and online backup was in place, emails were backed by a business continuity service.

What struck me most about this awful event was how much time the business owner needed to focus on insurance, recovery and getting his business back up and running after the fire.   There was simply no time to think about the IT and had the system and data been lost I simply don’t know how the business would have coped.   The disaster recovery and continuity systems that we had put in place as “just in case” allowed the business admin to continue; the customers to be contacted, the company to know who owes them and who they owe – these are the essential records that businesses simply can’t afford to lose.

Even to someone who is passionate about business continuity and disaster recovery, this event really focussed my mind and re-enforced by beliefs. Businesses need to have systems in place that can cope with disaster and can allow the business to continue trading even in the very worst circumstances.   Let’s look at some statistics – a few of these are US based but equally relevant to UK businesses:

6% of all PCs will suffer an episode of data loss in any given year. Given the number of PCs used in US businesses in 1998, that translates to approximately 4.6 million data loss episodes. At a conservative estimate, data loss cost US businesses $11.8 billion in 1998. (The Cost Of Lost Data, David M. Smith)
30% of all businesses that have a major fire go out of business within a year. 70% fail within five years. (Home Office Computing Magazine)
31% of PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control.
34% of companies fail to test their backups, and of those that do, 77% have found tape back-up failures.
60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within 6 months of the disaster.
93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. 50% of businesses that found themselves without data management for this same time period filed for bankruptcy immediately. (National Archives & Records Administration in Washington)
Companies that aren’t able to resume operations within ten days (of a disaster hit) are not likely to survive. (Strategic Research Institute)
Every week 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States. (Mozy Online Backup)

Stats like these are easy to throw around, but many business owners still don’t invest in business continuity for their systems.   The good news is that it is becoming far easier to ensure your IT systems will cope with disaster – the adoption of cloud services means that more and more data is being stored offsite so reliance on on-premise systems is lessening.   It’s still important to have a “what if” plan though – continuity is usually well documented in large businesses but not on the radar of smaller organisations.  Having seen first hand the many directions a business owner is pulled in immediately after a disaster, the value of a plan should not be underestimated.

The best bit is that having a business continuity plan and implementing disaster recovery isn’t difficult.   In the first instance, speak with your support provider – they will know what your systems can do and what the impact would be if the server or data was suddenly unavailable.  Make sure your backups are being checked regularly, and tested – something my team at Systemagic do regularly with our customers.

It might also be good to chat through implications and scenarios with someone who takes a strategic view of the IT systems.   It’s important to run through the “what if’s” and make sure everyone is aware of the implications – often awareness and understanding is enough – this needn’t be an exercise in new investment.  It might be that what you have in place is sufficient to allow your business to recover from a disaster, as long as everyone involved understands the process of coping with the task of recovery.   Alternatively it might be that you’re more vulnerable that you thought, and a plan of improvements might be a good idea to help you protect your business.

Backup and disaster recovery are usually the last thing on the mind of a business owner when things are busy and times are good, but devoting a few hours to a strategic planning session might just save the business if something awful happens.


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