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Apr 19, 20043 mins
Backup and RecoveryEnterprise Applications

Business continuity is more important to you than it is to General Motors

Think disaster recovery and business continuity and are just for billion-dollar enterprises?

I thought so, too, until I ran some numbers. When a small business loses its broadband connection for a few hours, it suffers mightily. After all, unlike a large business, there’s no way to make up for the lost revenue.

I figure I need an Internet connection 10 hours a day, 50 hours a week, 50 weeks per year, which totals 2,500 hours. I experience, on average, one 3-hour cable modem outage per quarter — which I find quite acceptable. Nevertheless, that makes my availability rate 99.52%, significantly lower than the 99.999% targeted by large companies.

While disaster recovery and business continuity are closely related, they are far from interchangeable. Disaster recovery is just what it sounds like: Getting your business back up after a problem takes it down. The disaster can be anything from an earthquake to your daughter pouring maple syrup in your CD-ROM drive; the point is that your computer or network is kaput or inaccessible. Note that disaster recovery is reactive by nature. It’s what you do after something terrible happens.

Business continuity, on the other hand, is pre-emptive. It is the practice of ensuring that terrible events cause as little disruption as possible.

The good news is that business continuity planning is pretty simple for home-based operations. While a big company must set up redundant network connections and place backup servers all over the world so an earthquake barely causes a blip, putting the maple syrup on a higher shelf might suffice for you and me.

Where disaster recovery is concerned, there’s plenty of general help available from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Institute for Business & Home Safety. But it’s far better to head off those disasters with some business continuity planning — in other words, backup.

The way I finally got myself to backup regularly was by scheduling the task for Friday afternoons. This works for me because by Friday, a mindless task like copying files to disk is about all I can handle. So for me, backup’s become a ritual signaling the end of my work week. I am remiss in one key way, though: My backup copies won’t do me any good if my home is destroyed or inaccessible. So on my to-do list is an investment in remote storage; these services have dropped to as little as $9 per month, so there’s little excuse. (You can expect a detailed look at remote storage in an upcoming column.)

Also consider back-up communications. A few summers back, despite my best efforts to clear the decks, I knew I would receive important e-mail during a vacation. So I bought a well-used $150 ThinkPad and signed up for a free trial with an ISP. Keeping a cheapo laptop and a free-trial-offer diskette for AOL or Earthlink around could help keep e-mail flowing if your broadband connection gets cut off, too.

Oh, and remember to keep that maple syrup way up high. Don’t ask me how I learned that lesson.