Tech Tip: Develop a solid disaster recovery strategy for a small business

Learn how to develop a solid disaster recovery strategy for a small business.

By Mike Talon

Large businesses aren't the only organizations that need disaster recovery plans; small businesses must also prepare for any number of catastrophes. For small companies, large-scale disaster recovery tools may not be fiscally feasible, but they may also not be very necessary.

While small businesses do indeed need DR systems in place, they generally don't need to protect systems at the same level as large organizations. This isn't because the data isn't as important--there probably just isn't as much data as you would find in large companies. Real-time replication and other higher-end technology is definitely an option, but it's usually not mandatory.

Tape is always a good starting place for small firms. You can purchase many tape systems for a reasonable price, and they can back up your entire infrastructure at once in many cases.

While some small organizations may need to find a slightly larger tape system, the basic systems will work just fine in the majority of cases. This typically entails a daily copy of all changed data and a weekly full copy of all data.

After making the tapes, be sure to remove the copies from the office, leaving only the most recent tapes in the facility. If there's a flood, fire, or some other physical mishap that destroys the on-site tapes, you'll still have backup copies.

Small organizations that have more than one office can find many host-based replication systems that don't require higher-end disk arrays to transmit data. These tools use the operating system on the individual servers to send copies of data between locations.

While this solution requires a server at both sites, it typically doesn't require much else. Of course, you don't want to eliminate tape from your environment, so use this solution in addition to using a tape backup system.

Host-based replication systems cost more than tape backup alone. However, if you have data that you must protect in real-time or near-real-time, this is a cost-effective method of gaining the protection your organization needs.

In addition, remember that a lot of data in small companies resides on laptops and desktops. Therefore, you must take steps to prevent data loss at this level.

Beginning with Windows 2000, you can use offline folders to keep the My Documents folder automatically updated both on the local machine and on a file server. For other operating systems, you can find tools or use corporate mandates to ensure that users back up or otherwise protect important data.

Recent advances in technology offer even more options that can help protect small businesses against data loss. For example, the new Windows Storage Server 2003 provides the ability to take point-in-time snapshots called volume shadow copies. Other network-attached storage (NAS) devices offer similar capabilities--if your budget allows for their purchase.

No matter how you protect your data, there's no reason to ignore DR just because you work for a small business. With the right combination of technology and insight, even small firms can provide their end users with high-end DR plans.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.