Data protection and disaster recovery are more important than ever, especially for small to midsized businesses (SMBs), which are reliant on access to their data and applications. Even a few hours of downtime can significantly impact productivity, sales, customer confidence, and reputation.
With natural disasters, cybercrime, and other data threats on the rise and in the news, more and more SMBs are recognizing that comprehensive data protection is not optional — it is a necessity. Data loss and downtime are not just costly, but can threaten an SMB’s ability to maintain operations.
SMB DATA PROTECTION ESSENTIALS
Every SMB needs a data protection plan that supports both backup/recovery and disaster recovery, while balancing risk and cost. Different businesses have different data protection needs, and data itself also varies in terms of its criticality to business operations, regulatory compliance, and legal electronic discovery mandates. However, every SMB’s data protection plan should address these fundamental requirements:
- Minimization of downtime, whatever the cause (natural disaster, equipment failure, human error, security breach, etc.)
- Access to critical data in an emergency
- Quick access to backed-up files
- Ability to recover files from any location over the Internet
- Acceptable recovery time for data stored both locally and offsite, not only for individual files but also for databases and even entire servers and desktop
Especially given projected data growth rates, many SMBs do not have adequate data protection today. According to Symantec, 74% of SMBs currently have no disaster recovery plan, and only 21% are “extremely confident” they can restore backed-up data. Half of SMBs backup less than 60% of their data, leaving the rest vulnerable to irretrievable loss.
Internal data policies likewise may not have evolved alongside changes in the volume and variety of data now requiring backup. Unfortunately, many SMBs don’t know what data they’re not protecting until it’s too late. Data loss is inevitable, and a costly event is frequently what compels an organization to evaluate new backup/restore options.
OUTSOURCING DATA PROTECTION
The major hurdles to SMB data protection are the technical difficulty and expense of performing backup/recovery in-house. Unlike their enterprise counterparts, SMBs must make do with minimal IT resources. SMBs may also lack expertise around the legal and regulatory implications of data retention and backup/recovery; a case in point being key changes in the new HIPAA rules, which went into effect in March 2013.
But while the comparatively low cost of local storage can provide a false sense of security, traditional backup technologies are error-prone and frequently hamper data recovery and application uptime. Tape libraries, for instance, are notorious for the storage and retrieval problems they create, as well as for reliability issues. Tape backup is also frequently labor-intensive, and results in unacceptably long “backup windows.” Fixed disk systems are faster and more reliable, but are still vulnerable to catastrophic breakdowns or simple human error.
The more “moving parts” a system has the more points of potential failure. According to recent research, hardware failure is the most frequent cause of data loss (40%), followed by human error (29%), and software corruption (13%). Natural disasters cause about 10% of data loss and system downtime. Viruses, cybercrime, and the theft of laptops and other equipment are growing in frequency and significance as causes of data loss and damaging security breaches.
CLOUD BACKUP OPTION
Thanks to faster Internet speeds combined with advances in data compression and deduplication, cloud backup options are often the most affordable, reliable, and efficient data protection solution for SMBs. According to a recent Analyst Insight from Aberdeen Group, 39% of businesses are already using cloud backup — more than for any other cloud technology other than Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). At least 30% of SMBs are already using cloud backup, with about 14% more planning to adopt it within one year.
Cloud backup eliminates the need to purchase and maintain data storage devices and the servers and software to run them, and also reduces demands on scarce IT resources. Often a cloud backup service is available at a fixed, predictable monthly cost.
With cloud backup services, data to be backed up is automatically transferred to an offsite data center via the Internet, eliminating the need to physically transport media (such as in an employee’s personal car). Organizations define a backup schedule, which the service automatically executes without human intervention.
Backups can encompass file servers, web servers, branch offices, and even mobile employees’ laptops. Deduplication and compression tools reduce storage volumes and backup times. End-to-end encryption options improve security for health records, financial and personal data, and other regulated data types.
Access to backed-up files in the cloud also takes place online, quickly and easily. Most cloud backup services offer the capability to restore servers, desktops and laptops, databases, and individual files from any location via the web.
CLOUD BACKUP DRIVERS FOR SMBS
For organizations that must frequently upgrade their storage capacity, need to mitigate the risk of business interruptions, and/or are not confident about their ability to restore lost data, cloud backup can address these concerns quickly and with minimal upfront investment.
Common business needs that cloud backup helps SMBs meet include:
- Cutting IT infrastructure costs without sacrificing efficiency
- Managing and reducing IT complexity
- Supporting business continuity and disaster recovery strategies
- Enabling file sharing with tablets/mobile devices
- Supporting business growth and additional users
- Accelerating data recovery and reducing the downtime associated with data loss
Among the biggest advantages of cloud backup is that data is stored offsite, and in many cases is also replicated across multiple data centers for even greater redundancy and availability. Offsite storage is a cornerstone of business continuity planning because it enables operations to recover faster in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.
For example, when Tukuru Technologies, a NY-based firm specializing in technology consulting services for architectural, engineering, and construction businesses, began reselling a cloud storage solution for its SMB clients, it didn’t realize that a major challenge that would turn into a great success was right around the corner.
Tukuru’s team of certified information technology professionals support various small-, medium-, and large-sized clients located in the New York City metro area with a host of services, including technology consulting, systems integration, LAN/WAN design and installation, and more.
In 2012, it added cloud services, so its clients’ storage capabilities would be less dependent upon the physical locations of their hardware and offices in the event of hurricanes, power outages, fires, and other natural and man-made disasters. While most of its clients already backed up important data on-site — and some stored tapes offsite — Tukuru understood that cloud backups were ultimately safer and more cost effective. And it found that cloud storage provided an ideal solution for a range of its smallest clients up to those with several terabytes of storage needs.
It was that insight into protection from disasters that ultimately proved valuable for its clients using online backup services that fell prey to Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012.
According to Marty Ayala, client service manager for Tukuru, soon after the hurricane knocked out power, he heard from several of his Manhattan-based clients who were working from home during the storm because their offices had lost power. Among them were clients who wanted home access to data to keep their businesses up and running throughout the storm. Fortunately, with their data safely backed up in offsite locations, Ayala was able to provide near instant access to requested files so they experienced no downtime in their operations. Staff from those clients continued to work from home with full access to data for the remainder of the storm until their offices once again were powered up and ready.
Meanwhile, when several other non-cloud clients lost power, they also lost all access to their data because it wasn’t protected in the cloud. One client even had Tukuru spend a day moving computing hardware to a new physical location in an attempt to maintain operations. It and others suffered downtime during the three days or more that many Manhattan businesses remained dark.
Among the benefits of working with his cloud backup solution, according to Ayala, are that managing, installing, and maintaining the backup solution is easy. Ayala noted that by providing his clients with a few instructions, they were able to locate important files and restore them to home computers quickly. “Restoring files worked like a charm,” he said, “and meant we had very satisfied customers during a time which could have been a catastrophe.” Even in minor situations in which local backups don’t go smoothly, Tukuru clients know they have safe and secure data that is available if necessary. These experiences have given Ayala and his customers peace of mind that if anything happens, they can access the data they need. “Knowing that in a pinch I can simply provide a link to my clients that will give them easy access to their secure data is a beautiful thing,” Ayala noted.
CHOOSING A CLOUD BACKUP PROVIDER
What factors are most important in choosing a cloud backup vendor? Reliability and cost are certainly key. Many SMBs also look for solutions that support a mix of onsite and offsite backup.
Other factors to consider include: data transfer rate, security/encryption options, use of redundant data centers, specifics of reporting and SLAs (including service levels for data recovery), and the quality and availability of the vendor’s customer support. Continuous data protection (CDP or near-CDP, also called real-time backup) is also important to SMBs that want to maximize data protection for their most recent data.
Data is the lifeblood of every organization, and protecting it from loss is vital to maintaining operations. Like businesses of all sizes, SMBs should consider cloud backup solutions, since they may offer the most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure data protection and disaster recovery while addressing regulatory requirements.