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Small business disaster recovery planning strategies

In this tip, learn about essential disaster recovery strategies and tools for better DR planning.

Disaster recovery (DR) is increasingly becoming a critical mandate for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)....

The cost of downtime -- and lost data can be a major caveat for any size organization. And it doesn't take a cataclysmic event to cause major disruption to a small business: the untimely loss of a critical file, server or application, even just for a few hours, can be extremely costly.

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In addition to the costs involved, a number of industry-specific regulations now require that even a moderately sized organization be able to demonstrate that its key business and IT assets are protected and/or fully recoverable in the event of a disaster. Less-than-full compliance with such regulations can result in the reprimand or firing of the managers responsible, along with severe penalties to the company itself.

And yet, despite the costs and risks of operating without a disaster recovery strategy, many small businesses are not prepared to cope with the stresses of a disruptive outage, let alone a full-fledged disaster. Based on a Taneja Group survey of hundreds of IT managers conducted in mid-2009, more than one-half of SMBs based in North America do not have a disaster recovery plan in place. Unfortunately, roughly one-quarter of the SMBs responding to the survey have suffered a significant outage in their IT infrastructures during the past three years.

Disaster recovery tools of the trade: Small business disaster recovery tips

Before we look at what goes into a disaster recovery plan for a small business, let's take a quick look at some disaster recovery tools and technologies introduced during the past five to 10 years that can help take some of the cost and complexity out of a DR infrastructure. These resources are based largely on software rather than hardware, and therefore enable greater flexibility and a lower upfront investment. In fact, one could argue that for the first time, these technologies actually make enterprise-grade DR affordable for small to medium sized businesses.

The first of these technologies is server and storage virtualization. Virtualization significantly reduces the dependence of applications and data on hardware platforms, while greatly increasing their mobility. When combined with wide-area network (WAN) acceleration, these technologies open up new disaster recovery opportunities for small businesses. One popular DR approach in VMware environments is to take a snapshot of a running virtual server -- including its operating system, configuration settings, data and applications. After that, replicate that snapshot image to a remote site. Since incremental snapshots are now both space-efficient and non-disruptive, they can be taken as frequently as required to satisfy recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) metrics. Small and medium businesses that cannot afford the luxury of a single, designated disaster recovery site can set up data replication paths between different branch or remote sites, to at least cover the risk of a single-site failure.

Going one step beyond snapshot replication, virtualization and data protection, vendors are now offering automated failover capabilities for virtual machines (VMs), which will be supplemented in the near future with automated failback functionality. Products such as IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM), Symantec Veritas Cluster Services (VCS) and VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) offer automated VM failover at varying levels today. Though only a handful of SMBs are using such automated tools today, we believe they will become increasingly more attractive to SMBs from both a cost and manageability standpoint.

Learn about common pitfalls in disaster recovery procedures in the next part of our guide on small business disaster recovery planning.

About this author: Jeff Byrne is a senior analyst and consultant at the Taneja Group, an analyst firm focused on storage and storage-centric server technologies with a concentration in the developing area of virtualization. He can be reached at [email protected].


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