Take a moment to imagine what would happen if all your business data were gone tomorrow. Does the thought make you queasy? If that’s not enough to make you sick, according to DTI/PricewaterhouseCoopers, seven out of 10 small firms that experience a major data loss go out of business within a year. Even if your data is recoverable, it can take days to deal with a major server outage when old backup technologies are used.

Many business owners don’t realize they are at risk. Many think they are protected, only to find out the hard way that they were far more exposed than they thought. Even more think, “well gosh, that will never happen to me.”

Little did they know.

Here are some of their REAL LIFE stories.

- A cell phone dealer with a retail storefront went out of business after a drunk driver smashed into the store, causing a fire that burned down the entire building.

- A company in a high-rise office building had excellent backups onsite, but only took data offsite every couple of weeks. A pipe in the sprinkler system froze, flooding their office with more than 17,000 gallons of water when it thawed. They were lucky — the water didn’t touch the server.

- An out-of-control truck ran off the road and into a building, destroying a company’s entire server room. This company was well prepared: offsite backups and a standby server got them up and running almost immediately.

- A business consulting practice had their UPS catch fire. It melted their server and backup system and also damaged several other companies in the building. They nearly went out of business.

- After investing in new systems, a doctor went back to an older medical records system she preferred that was running on an aging server. She didn’t have the software to reinstall it when the server finally crashed, so she lost access to her patients’ records for weeks.

- A financial services company failed to change passwords after an employee left on bad terms. Shortly thereafter, their server was hacked with a virus bomb that wiped out most of their data. Eventually the backup was restored, but they were hit with regulatory penalties and had to provide identity theft protection to all their customers because of the data breach.

- Thieves used a plasma cutter to break into a company through the warehouse loading door. Despite the loud alarms, they were able to cut all the wires connecting the computers and servers, yank them out and make off with them before the police arrived. They lost everything.

- An attorney’s office diligently swapped their tapes every night. Turns out, the tapes were never formatted, so they were blank. In over a year’s time, no one ever caught the backup failure (in the logs, in bright red print).

- Consultants came in to perform an Exchange e-mail migration. Due to an error on their part, much of the data was lost. When they tried to restore from the backup (set up by internal IT staff), it didn’t work either. After plenty of finger-pointing, they got to work and were able to recover most of their e-mail.

- An audio/visual company with terabytes of video was flooded during heavy spring rains. When they went to restore from backup, it didn’t work, so they sent their hard drives to a data recovery specialist. After $20,000 in data recovery bills, they discovered their network support company didn’t set it up properly. The backup had never run, not even once, so they lost years of customer video. This company is now a fraction of its former size.

- Another company had a beautifully organized tape backup, with everything labeled and neatly stored in the basement, behind the elevator. When they finally needed to recover data files, they found that the magnetic field from the elevator had erased all the tapes.

- One company thought they’d accounted for every possible scenario, until a van hit a nearby power pole. The resulting power surge was akin to a direct lightning strike and shorted out every electronic device in the entire building, even the coffee maker! Fortunately, a new server, an image-based backup and offsite data storage saved the day. They were back in action within a few days.

 

Don’t be a victim!

To make sure you don’t become the next story, here’s what you need to put in place:

- New, image-based backup technology, that backs up the entire server instead of just the data files. This will allow for speedy recovery in case of problems. You can restore to a new machine without any trouble, often within a matter of minutes.

- Onsite backup to a hard-drive-based device, such as a NAS (network attached storage device) or a standby server. Tape backups are slow and too unreliable.

- Keep a standby server or make sure you have a way to obtain a new server in less than 24 hours (depending on your tolerance for downtime). If you ever need to recover from a serious hardware failure, you’ll need something you can use to restore your systems.

- Offsite backup, ideally an Internet-based solution that doesn’t rely on someone in your office remembering to take something with them each day. Make sure there’s a way to have the data shipped to you in an emergency, as large data stores can take days to download.

- Regular verification of your backup process. It is not safe to assume your backup is working. Test it regularly to be sure. That means testing data recovery, not just checking to see that the backup job is still running.

If you address all these points, you will be as disaster-proof as possible, able to recover from nearly anything life throws at you. If you ignore even one of these points, you are still at risk and will have to rely on hope as your data recovery strategy. The unlucky businesses mentioned in this story are proof that hope isn’t always enough.

Wendy Gauntt is president of CIO Services LLC, a technology consulting company that specializes in small business solutions. Visit her Web site at www.cioservicesllc.com for more information, ideas and free resources. 

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