Small Business Disaster Recovery Planning

I am amazed at the phone calls I get from small businesses that realize they are in deep trouble only when the primary computer at their business goes down.

For home users, I’ve seen people cry when they realize that all their digital pictures and movies are gone due to a drive failure. There are specialized firms that can recover this kind of data from a dead drive, but it can be into the thousands of dollars. As much as a mom wants all those pictures of the kids on a dead drive, most people just can’t spend that kind of money for a professional recovery.

Now, if you’re a commercial / business customer, then the backup process should be of max importance.  The data that you have on your business computers is very likely the difference between thriving and failing.  We have seen cases where the loss of data on a server or primary machine causes companies to close. If you don’t know who you’ve billed or who has paid, or even who all your clients ARE, you could be in deep, deep trouble.  When failures like this happen, data recovery is imperative.  If you have a server or servers, then setting up solid RAIDs on your systems is one GREAT step towards preventing irrecoverable failures.  Something go really wrong on one of your RAIDs? Don’t give up hope – learn how RAID 5 data recovery can really help your small business out of a serious jam!

As a computer person, I always tell people about backups. Unfortunately, most people don’t ever do a single backup. I suspect that they have good intentions, but figuring out how to backup the documents, email files and all that is just more annoying than it ought to be for most people. Seagate has a nice backup utility with it’s external hard drives. I also put one called Cobian Backup out there for customers. It’s relatively easy to configure and doesn’t require much more than a few minutes to install and setup. Even better, it’s a free software.

I’m not sure where the disconnect for people is in the relationship of their computer to their business. Computers have become such a part of all businesses that it is inconceivable to me that people just don’t put the time (or money) into their systems to ensure that their business data is secure and available. Computers crash, hard drives fail, people accidentally delete items, maybe a disgruntled employee INTENTIONALLY deletes items, etc. There are so many situations in which data can be lost that it is impossible to enumerate them all.

In larger business, it is a given that there is a rescue plan normally referred to as a “Disaster Recovery Plan” or “Business Continuity Plan”. This kind of plan is a necessity. It is realized in larger businesses that frequently the loss of data can lead to a complete failure of a company. Think about it, if you haven’t already. If you lose your customer list, your billing info, inventory information, general customer data, etc; could you actually re-create the whole of that information on your own? Heck, I can’t even remember my sister’s phone number – it’s been programmed into my phone for years, and I never actually have to think about it. Now think about the amount of data that any business computer has on it for months or years just building up. Could you really ever get that data back from memory!

In small business, owners or responsible parties SHOULD have a similar plan. What should this plan entail? At a minimum, disaster recovery plans should contain all critical information to reset a company from the ground up.

  • All of your own customer IDs,usernames/passwords,addresses,etc to all business accounts. This should include vendor accounts,customer accounts, etc.
  • Don’t forget misc things like your Fedex and UPS account info,property management company, utility accounts, and other frequently used, but frequently not thought about, accounts.
  • Email information including email setup info including email server information
  • Website info if you have one
  • Bank account information including contact names and numbers
  • Customer lists with names, addresses, phone numbers and other contact info.
  • Financial records – like Quickbooks. If you use a different system, make sure you get all the associated files required to COMPLETELY restore your financial data.

This is not a comprehensive list of everything that could be included, but it should be a good start for any small business or even home user that heavily uses their computer for their daily activities. When deciding what to backup and what to ensure you have, imagine if your computer dropped dead today, at a minimum, what would you want to be able to, or NEED to, have access to quickly? THAT is the data that you need to have backed up.

Another thing to keep in mind, offsite backup. A true disaster recovery plan ensures business continuity in case of a local disaster – think fire, hurricane, tornado, or some other local devastation. So you have backed up your data to an external hard drive at your office. One morning you awake to one of our infamous North Carolina hurricanes – and your office has lost the roof (or worse). Everything has become soaked,maybe had a tree or five drop on it, etc. Can you still recover? Maybe not. The data that you have collected as above should ALSO be stored in an offsite location. It could be a safety deposit box, your home, another office location, or maybe an online data repository.

The last part of this plan should also indicate a schedule for refreshing this data. Weekly or monthly backups are the norm for financial data. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s a valid time frame. In case of disaster, you have to assume that the best data you will have access to is that from the last refresh. Anything newer than that will have to be re-created. Thus, if your last backup was on the 30th of the month and disaster strikes on the 15th, you will be able to recover from the last data PLUS re-create/enter the data from the most recent 15 days of the current month. A common schema is to do local backups on a weekly basis and refresh the offsite data on a monthly basis.

Do yourself a favor, think TODAY about what you would want if your computer suddenly went down; gather it all together; and then put it somewhere safe. It can be a “thumb drive”, an external drive, another computer or someplace similar. You will be one step ahead of the game. If you do even part of what is discussed here, I can guarantee you will be in a better position than 95% of small businesses out there.

Do yourself a favor and backup today! If you need help and you’re around Raleigh, call Lizardwebs 🙂

Author: Eric Erickson

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