If you are thinking about starting a business, information systems will probably factor into your plans at sometime. The business will require some sort of application software and the requisite information created from the application – whether the solution is simply an Excel spreadsheet or something more advanced and automated like Quickbooks Pro or an enterprise resource management system . Subjects like disaster recovery, data protection, cyber security, web filtering, etc., are subjects entrepreneurs should be thinking about. This is the first article in a series of articles that will introduce the new,and experienced, business owner to information technology intricacies that should be included in your business plans. The first issue introduced will be the idea of disaster recovery and data backup.
As a business owner, you must define what constitutes a disaster, how long it should take to restore operations, and what systems are critical to the function of the business. How long can the business operate in a degraded mode, or not at all, if none of the systems are available. How about email? If your email is not available at all, how long can you survive? What about your phone system? Your accounting systems? Your website?
What constitutes as a disaster for a business? Here are some events to think about:
Upgrading software, servers or workstations that fails or corrupts data.
Migrating data to centralized storage that fails or corrupts data.
Fire, flood, hurricane, and other acts of God.
Virus breakout – both medical or cyber.
Hazardous material event, chemical spill, gas leak, etc.
Communication systems failure.
For disaster recovery, there are two components to recovering data – the backup and the most important, the restore of data. These are two very important distinctions. As an example, I had been doing some side work for a small health facility that had been hit by lightning and I was recovering the network connectivity. After I got the network operational, I left for the evening. The next day, the president of the company was working on the accounting system and accidentally hit the key that did the year end close on the books and it was only October.
The conversation went something like this:
“Can you please come in and restore the accounting data? I accidentally closed our books for the year.”
“Do you have a backup?”
“Yes, we back up every night.”
“Perfect, I can be there in about an hour.”
When I get to the facility, I asked where I can find the machine that did the backups and where the tapes were located. The software was BackupExec, I knew that software well. I bring up the management screen and look when the last time the backup ran. Last night, perfect. Now, what was backed up? Uh-oh – two directories, one was a WordPerfect directory and the other was a user’s home directory. I looked at other tapes – same thing. No other network data was being backed up, or at least nothing that was important to the accounting system.
I had to go to the president of the company and deliver the bad news. I am sorry but your backups are worthless. The backup machine did not have enough access rights to successfully backup the data that needed to be saved. The last thing I did, before I left, was setup the backup to login with an account that had sufficient rights to see all the data that needed to be backed up. I came back the next day to verify the back-up ran successfully and the data was properly backed up. I saw the data was being backed up properly. After I got the backups working, the company hired someone full-time to take care of the network and computers.
Here was the problem for this little disaster, to backup all the data successfully, the backup process had to be run as a admin-type user that can read all of the files and folders. There are actually three take-aways from this event:
1.Watch and verify backups are being done, finishing without errors and backing up everything that has been identified as important.
2.Identify someone to be responsible to watch and verify backups are being performed properly. That individual may not have to fix the backup, but the person will have the responsibility to make sure the backup gets fixed.
3.Verifying backups are being completed is only half of the task. You must practice to recover files and verify the data recovered is readable.
Restoration of data is the single most important task of doing backups. This concept seems self-evident but almost always missed. You can setup a backup and walk away for months without ever worrying that the data is being backed up because the logs are being watched. Then, the day comes when you must restore a file, an application, or, even worse, a server. This is not the time to be learning how to restore a file. The business is down, people can’t work because the data is unavailable.
If the business has only one person and computer, find an online backup service that will backup your data for your business for a fee. Some of these services can be very economical. You might also think about virtualization. Depending on how computer savvy you are, you can use a utility from VMware in which you can perform a virtualization technique known as a physical to virtual (P2V) conversion. The P2V will allow you to virtualize your computer leaving the physical machine completely intact. In the event something goes terribly wrong (a disaster), in a reasonable amount of time, you can have your cloned computer running. The virtual machine may not be completely up to date, but at least you did not lose everything like account payable or receivable information or your all important customer database and contacts.
For larger systems with centralized servers, virtualization is a good option but like the above scenario, the data may not be up to date. Then, there is another do it yourself option, in which, the business takes on the expense of backup software and media. One “do it yourself” option for a backup solution is an open source solution called Zmanda. The first benefit is the software is free to install and use. Just make sure you read all of the requirements needed for a successful implementation. Larger implementations can be outsourced, also. I am personally adverse to not having complete control over the data but the solution is like any other “cloud” solution. If you do not have the expertise in house, the outsourced solution may be best for your environment.
In Phoenix, there was an architectural firm that had just converted all their drawings to digital format. Shortly after that conversion, the building they were in had a fire and completely destroyed everything in the building. Following catastrophic events, if the business does not have a good disaster plan, businesses life expectancy averages another 18 months trying to recover before finally succumbing to the disaster. Businesses of all sizes need to prepare a disaster plan or hire someone to help develop a plan. It is not if a disaster will occur, unfortunately, it is a matter of when and to what degree. If you never have a disaster that is wonderful. But if you do, will you be prepared?
More coming later – but until then, look at our website for open source software @ http://www.oss4win.com