From the Oct. 2008 Issue
For many years, every accounting firm’s disaster recovery plans have
involved using tape backup systems as the cornerstone for data recovery in the
event of a disaster, and many are still doing so. Over the past four years,
however, many things have changed in the disaster recovery area including the
name. Disaster recovery is now called business continuity.
What is Business Continuity?
Business continuity is the new term for disaster recovery, which expands our
disaster recovery plans to include any type of business interruption. Business
continuity ensures that a company continues to operate or returns to operation
as quickly as possible after an event that disrupts the normal operations of
the business. Business continuity not only includes disaster recovery plans
but also addresses issues that may not be a disaster such as power outages,
employee death or injury, snow emergencies, or building issues unrelated to
an act of nature. Business continuity plans are designed to address these issues
as well as the larger disasters that are the result of an act of nature. Do
you have a business continuity plan? If not, now is a great time to start working
A good business continuity plan is developed by providing guidelines of what
people should do in the event something happens that is covered by the plan.
The components that make up the business continuity plan will either be step-by-step
instructions or general guidelines that allow for interpretation based on the
circumstances. Generally, the guidelines will be used for major events where
the situation is changing rapidly and employees working on the situation have
to use judgment when making decisions. The step-by-step items will cover more
routine tasks that need to be done in a certain order, or procedures that need
to be followed in an exact methodology.
What’s New in Backup?
Now that we have an idea about business continuity plans, we should look at
the large number of new developments in backup technology, which are a significant
component in any business continuity plan for data protection. Disk-based backup,
server-based backup and online backup are starting to replace tape backup as
the primary means of creating backups for business continuity.
Redundancy is another concept that has become a part of backup solutions to
ensure successful business continuity. The availability of other options at
a reasonable cost, such as those mentioned here, makes it easy to implement
two backup solutions. The software used for backup (Backup Exec and ARCserve)
have been developed to support multiple types of backup devices. With all these
new options, we are easily able to build in redundancy to our business continuity
Disk-based backup works by using portable or removable hard drives to make backups
of the servers and data on our networks. By using these devices combined with
ARCserve or Backup Exec, the backups are created on these portable disk drives.
Using multiple portable disk devices, a rotation can be created and at least
one backup can be taken off site. The backup data stored on disk is less prone
to problems and errors. Tape backup can have defects in the tape or deteriorate
over time and is more likely to suffer a failure versus a disk-based backup.
This does not mean that disk-based backup will be problem free, but the medium
is much more stable than tape and the data written to the disk will remain on
the disk longer than tape.
The other benefit of disk-based backup is that capacities are larger than
tape-based systems. The recent increase in portable disk drive sizes to over
two terabytes of storage significantly exceeds tape capacities. Only autoloaders
can match the capacities of portable disk drives. This allows for multiple rotation
backups on a single unit. This capability provides many new options for backup
that did not exist four years ago.
Server-based backup is using a server with large disk capacity to backup data
on the other servers and workstations in the network. The data on this server
is then copied to portable disks or tape for storage offsite. This solution
allows for server-to-server replication. Using a second server located at an
offsite location and specialized software to replicate the data from one server
to another over the Internet allows you to copy the data from the backup server
to the offsite server. The server replication option works well for those firms
with multiple offices.
The benefit of using server-based backup accrues to those firms who have large
amounts of data. The speed of the backup is enhanced because server-based disk
drives are much faster than tape or portable disks. In addition, the disk sizes
on the server are much larger than what is currently available on portable drives.
Server-based backup also allows for the copy process to take place during the
day when the other servers are being used for productive work.
Online backup uses the Internet and a secure (or encrypted) connection to backup
data on the network to a third-party provider’s server storage system.
The backup data is generally compressed and in many services is encrypted to
secure the data both on the provider’s server and while it is going across
the Internet to the provider. Online backup is generally slower than the other
two forms of backup because it uses the Internet to transfer data to the third
Online backup is best used for business critical data such as the firm’s
client list and the accounts receivable information. Because the online backup
services have monthly fees and charge by the amount of data space used on the
third-party’s system, it is important to keep this data at a minimum so
costs are reasonable. The ability to access business-critical data immediately
in the event of a large business continuity occurrence, such as a building fire,
increases the value of this backup format.
The rapid change in technology brings new options for firms in terms of backup.
If you are using tape for backup, there is nothing wrong with continuing to
use it as long as it continues to function for you. The new technologies available
today can be implemented as additional options and supplements to tape-based
backup. Having redundancy in your business continuity plan provides options
in the event there is an equipment failure in the primary device.
The newer formats of backup provide new ways of enhancing the business continuity
plan for your firm. Adding one or more of these backup formats to the firm’s
network enhances the business continuity plan. The redundancy provided by using
a secondary backup solution makes sense by eliminating a single point of failure.
The security provided by a solid backup plan and solid business continuity plan
is important to your firm’s continuity.
Example of Business Continuity Plan Guidelines
Recently, Capital One created a set of guidelines for its high transaction
business. It’s reproduced here to give you some ideas in developing your business
continuity plans. Many of these ideas are applicable to any business, not just
Capital One. These items will be things that you can consider putting into your
business continuity plan:
- Identify your risks (the kinds of business interruptions you’re most
likely to experience).
- Prioritize critical business functions and how quickly these must be recovered.
- Identify which aspects of operations can be suspended temporarily and which
must be maintained.
- List the business tools you will need to perform operations essential to
sustaining business during a disaster and the recovery period that follows.
- Review communications capabilities for maintaining contact with employees.
E-mail and text messaging should play a large role in employee communications
- Establish a location where employees may work off-site and access critical
backup systems, records and supplies.
- Equip your backup operations site with critical equipment, data files and
supplies, including power generators, computers and software, critical computer
data files (payroll, accounts payable and receivable, customer orders, inventory),
phones/radios/TVs, equipment and spare parts, digital cameras, common supplies,
supplies unique to your business (order forms, contracts, and so on), basic
first aid/sanitary supplies, food and water.
- Review your backup and recovery plan at least annually.
(This information adapted from eWeek Vol. 25, No. 22, July 21, 2008.)
Mr. Anderson is the manager of the Information Technology Services Group at
Weidmayer, Schneider, Raham & Bennett, PC, and specializes in assisting
small and medium-sized businesses with their technology needs. He can be contacted