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Some Salutary Tales from the World of Backup

Philip Magson - Shackleton Technologies Dundee

Written by Philip Magson

Talking to clients about backup and disaster recovery is a little like talking about certain types of insurance – unless they have gone through a particularly difficult IT situation and had to rely on a backup of data, or a disaster recovery system, it’s actually quite hard for them to visualise exactly what can (and does) go wrong, and the enormous inconvenience generated when it does. 

Don’t get me wrong – everyone we speak to is interested in disaster recovery, and everyone thinks they should be doing something about it, but often it comes down to what they need to invest in and what they’d like to invest in. Simply, disaster recovery, business continuity and backup frequently fall on the ‘would like to’ side of the ledger, and struggle to justify themselves when budgeting decisions are being made.

Whilst this is understandable, in our view business continuity is critical, making perfect sense financially and perfect sense from a business standpoint. Almost every business – whether it is entirely apparent or not – are hugely reliant on their IT systems and would find it extraordinarily hard to function effectively without them. Whilst the chances of something going wrong are perhaps slim, the impact when they do can be catastrophic, costing time and money to put right, not to mention the potentially enormous cost of business disruption.

I wanted to share a couple of personal (and very real) stories from the world of disaster recovery – I don’t want to dwell on the negative, so one story is of a successful disaster recovery plan swinging into action. If you’re one of those business owners who is constantly putting off investing in backup, perhaps I’ll be so fortunate as to change your viewpoint – it’s in the interests of your business, I promise!

Careless Contractors Cutting Cables

Most people operating from a large, modern office block wouldn’t be too concerned to see a small team of contractors digging up the pavement outside their office – it happens all the time, for a whole host of reasons. So thought a financial services organisation I was working with in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the digging team working outside the building decided it was a good idea to cut clean through a high voltage electricity cable buried under the pavement. The result was immediate and crippling – power to the entire block was completely cut.

Happily, the organisation in question already had a robust disaster recovery plan in place, and their DR team quickly began rolling it out. Staff were quickly transferred to a second office location around 15 miles away, phone lines were diverted, clients were alerted and – barring a very short period of downtime – business was back to normal. What allowed them to achieve this was technology, hardware, infrastructure and software that maintained a backup of their data and applications off-site, totally unaffected by the power cut, and a system that allowed rapid recovery from backup. 

For a business regulated on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Asia, a severe interruption in service could have had terminal consequences – disaster recovery and backup literally saved the business. 

Backups, Roofs & Water Ingress

IT disaster can come without human intervention, and in the case of a recent conversation I had, Mother Nature would have been to blame. Think about the roof above your server equipment – totally confident it won’t ever leak? For one company, disaster was narrowly averted when the roof of a room adjacent to the server room leaked, allowing a huge amount of rainwater into the building. Fortunately, nothing significant was damaged, but had the leak occurred six feet in another direction, the water would have cascaded straight down onto a rack holding the company’s core servers and internal backup system, destroying the lot and rendering a successful recovery completely impossible. 

The business ramifications would have been horrendous, as drives would have been sent off to labs for professional data recovery, a process which can take days. In the meantime, staff would have been forced to work without access to email, using only the files that were stored locally on their desktop and laptop machines. I dread to think how they would have coped. As I’ve mentioned, fortunately none of this came to pass and the only damage was a few soggy boxes of A4 paper that had to go straight in the skip. 

Our advice – consider your own arrangements. In the event of a complete power failure, would access to your backup server or devices be impossible? If so, and you need to get back up and running, unfortunately the answer might be removing all of your IT equipment from your location, transporting it to another and re-starting everything. Not the quickest of things to do – would this be a realistic option for you? If the roof did leak, and your server was damaged, how would you recover data and how would your business cope?

Mitigating Risk

Our advice is simple: plan ahead and mitigate risk wherever you can, if nothing else to ensure the continuity of your business should the the worst happen. There are some fantastic disaster recovery and business continuity products on the market, which coupled with a more cloud-based strategy and robust infrastructure, can transform the resilience of your business. For example, Datto offers superb hybrid backup and cloud visualisation products that we believe represent superb value for money, are very innovative and – most importantly – ensure you are able to recover data quickly. 

Hosted Exchange puts your entire business email in the cloud, meaning that you and your staff can access it from anywhere they are able to find a web connection, be that your office or a café down the road. By taking data off-site, you simply don’t run the risk of internal hardware failure impacting on such a business-critical function. Office 365 can put your documents in the cloud, further strengthening your business.

Concerned? Talk to Us!

If you have concerns about your backup and disaster recovery setup, we’d be delighted to offer you a completely free, completely no-obligation review – simply contact myself or Steve Ross on 01382 250 900 or email