By Mike Herrington

Most businesses know that having a good backup of their company data is critical. However, most small and medium businesses don’t spend nearly enough energy doing strategic planning for disaster recovery. There are a lot of factors to consider to determine the best solution for your organization.

Many experts will tell you that the best place to start with disaster recovery (DR) is clearly identifying your company goals. DR plans can vary widely from a basic nightly backup to advanced systems that have ultimate redundancy and guarantee no downtime. Price tags and labor costs also vary with the complexity of the solution.

It’s important for business owners to determine what the cost of downtime is for their organizations. These calculations are often overlooked. Business owners invest significantly in insurance to protect their businesses, but frequently do very little to protect vital business data. Knowing the cost of downtime is typically a great jumping-off point to determine what you want to invest in a DR solution.

Once you have a good idea of what downtime can potentially cost your organization, it’s time to put a plan in place to mitigate that risk. This plan should include a detailed list of the potential threats you want to protect against. It should also include goals for your recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO). RPO is the maximum amount of acceptable data loss in a disaster scenario. RTO is the maximum time that is acceptable for services to be disrupted. The plan should be practical, manageable and cost-effective.

Business owners have many options about how to manage their DR solutions. The two most common are in-house management by internal IT staff and partnering with a service provider. Each has a number of advantages and disadvantages.

One of the major advantages of managing DR in-house with your internal IT staff is that you maintain complete control of your data and environment. You can easily maintain security compliance and ensure that your data is administered in accordance with company policy.

Another advantage of keeping DR processes in-house is that nobody knows your data and systems better than your own internal IT resources. With the correct skill set, they can ensure that systems are maintained and critical systems have a custom solution that gives you the redundancy and uptime you need.

There is also a fair amount of flexibility built into keeping DR solutions in-house. It allows you to easily modify the solution to suit the need as the network evolves. It also allows you to ensure the solution is a fit for your goals and that there is little or no waste.

There are also several disadvantages to managing DR internally. DR is a significant undertaking, and if properly managed, can take quite a bit of time to administer. This can pull your IT staff away from important support activities and also from ROI generating projects. In addition to this, not all businesses have the needed resources to manager DR internally. DR requires a fairly advanced IT skill set.

Another drawback to internal DR is cost. There are significant labor costs to administer DR. There are also frequently large capital expenses to purchase the equipment, systems and software needed to build a functional DR solution. Most of these systems have ongoing support and maintenance costs once they are in place.

All too often, systems administrators with the best intentions in the world fail to have the time necessary to properly administer DR. This includes testing the solution, which can frequently be cumbersome at best. Since testing DR is frequently so difficult it fr goes undone by internal IT staff in favor of more pressing tasks.

Another option for business owners is to partner with a service provider and outsource their DR needs. This also has its pluses and minuses, but is a good choice for most small and medium businesses.

The disadvantages of outsourcing this function really lie around making sure the provider completely understands the need and provides a solution that is appropriate for it. If business owners aren’t clear about their expectations, they can sometimes end up with a solution that is larger than needed or that doesn’t give them the functionality they are looking for.

There are numerous advantages to outsourcing DR activities. Cost savings is typically on the very top of the list for most companies. They can save on monthly management costs and allow in-house IT to focus on more strategic tasks. They can also frequently save large capital expenses by leveraging DR as a service offered by many providers.

This also takes the management burden off the IT staff. It ensures that backups will be properly managed by technicians that have been trained on these specific systems. In-house IT staff can focus on giving excellent support and other strategic activities. Most providers include testing of the DR solution as part of the service, so outsourcing DR also eliminates that headache for system administrators.

Having a plan in place for disaster recovery is critical for businesses. According to Carbonite, an online backup service, “About 70 percent of business people have experienced (or will experience) data loss due to accidental deletion, disk or system failure, viruses, fire or some other disaster.” Business owners should do strategic DR planning to ensure that they could be resilient in the face of an emergency. Outsourcing DR functions is a great fit for most SMB and can help them ensure they have the best solution at a price tag that is affordable for their business.

Mike Herrington is vice president of sales for i.t.NOW, where he consults with business owners on IT solutions and strategy.

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