How Do I...Recover My Data?

A disaster can happen at any time, and odds are you won't even know that it's coming.

If you're the kind of small business that depends on its data -- whether that's a shoe store that keeps measurements for better customer service or a financial firm that stores sensitive data -- you should be prepared.

BlackMesh co-founders Jason Ford (left) and Eric Mandel. (Photo courtesy of company)

Disasters can come in many forms says Eric Mandel CEO of BlackMesh, a 10-person business in Herndon, Va., that offers computer-related disaster recovery services. They can be natural disasters, like a fire, or man-made disasters, like a computer virus. Either way, they can devastate a firm's digital assets.

For his clients, the most common disaster scenario is losing data or having hardware fail. Mandel says the key to recovery is knowing the first step to take when disaster strikes. That's often as simple as publishing a notice to customers on your Web site that says you're currently experiencing technical difficulties. Customers are generally much more understanding if a company alerts them to a problem, says Mandel, instead of leaving them in the dark.

Once a company has informed its customers of the problem, it can move on to the second step: how to recover its data.

Most BlackMesh clients want to know how quickly they can get back online. Mandel says it's very easy to create a backup site that can be published from a different location or a different server. "With enough planning and putting things in place, you can have recovery down to a couple of minutes, or maybe hours," he said.

Mandel says cost is often the biggest issue for small businesses as they tend to be more hands-on in making sure they have access to their data. Many request monthly DVD images of their data residing under BlackMesh's care.

"More of the larger firms have plans in place and not all their eggs are in one basket, but for small firms, this data is often everything to them," he said.

Mandel said any company working with an IT vendor should discuss how, if something goes wrong, the vendor will fix it and what will happen if the recovery plan doesn't work.

Small firms should plan for disaster before it strikes, he said. "When a disaster happens and emotions are running and people are trying to react quickly, that's the time it can be really hard to come up with a plan."

Symantec, a global firm specializing in protection technologies, recently released a suite of online storage tools for small- and medium-sized businesses. The Cupertino, Calif., firm offers a Web page, or portal, where companies can buy, manage or deploy technologies that Symantec hosts.

A business registers for a service plan online, decides how much storage it needs and identifies particular files for back up and protection. Symantec captures any changes that are made on those files and builds a version history.

"It's common to think that a disaster is a flood or a fire, but really it can be a data corruption event too," said Chris Schin, Symantec senior director of product management.

He said firms might want to make plans beyond simply backing up their data tapes and then putting those tapes under their desks -- "many companies need to have their data in different physical locations and away from the primary source."

Schin said just about any firm needs to consider safety measures -- whether it's a retailer that has customer data or financial results, a regulated company that can't afford to lose data that they might have to turn over to a regulating body or a law firm that can't lose its legal documents. Appropriate measures depend on the company's risk profile.

"In general, you want to make sure your critical data is backed up often. You can always replace computers if you have to," Schin said.

He says small firms should trust the person or vendor who is responsible for backing up the data. "If you're going to take your data off-site and not just put it in the boss's trunk every night, make sure you really know who is handling your data. Make sure they're trusted."

Previous Small Business Blog stories about computer and disaster issues include:

How Do I...Deal With a Disaster?

Are You Being Served?

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By Sharon McLoone |  August 29, 2008; 9:59 AM ET How Do I...
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