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Backup & Security

Putting a Technology Focus on Disaster Planning

Special Feature on Disaster Recover & Business Continuity

From the September 2009 Issue

The world remains stunned when it comes to disasters and planning for the inevitable.
Between man-made terrorism and natural disasters that came about over the last
decade, the attitude changed from “If a disaster occurs” to “When
a disaster occurs.”

While Hurricane Katrina, World Trade Center bombings and other disasters taught
us to be ever watchful, disaster recovery and business continuity planning seems
to be mostly out of sight and out of mind for businesses … until something
happens. That’s just the way we’re wired … but not the way
we need to react.

We’ve come a long way from focusing on system backups or emergency call
lists. Thanks to technology, it’s easier now, more than ever before, to
prepare your firm and your clients for the worst possible scenario. Here’s
how:

INTEGRATION IS KEY
David Callery, a Business Software consultant for Coe
& Company, LLC
in New Orleans, La., considers himself an expert in disaster
recovery, and he should. Amidst the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Callery
was ready and able to assist not only his firm, but also his clients using Microsoft,
Sage and Intuit solutions.

“I believe there still needs to be a shift in the way businesses look
at technology; many companies, especially smaller ones, tend to make the investment
in technology and think it will hold them for a number of years,” says
Callery. “While this may have been the case 10 years ago, there are many
more things affecting technology today. All of those aspects change on a daily
basis.”

Because Callery believes business software providers, operating system publishers,
web developers, office products and hardware manufacturers all affect the operation
of a business, integration of all functions is key.

“A change by one typically demands a change by all in operating the
compatible software elements. While the cost for normal technology maintenance
is another business expense to deal with, it is far less costly than the three-
to five-year replacement/upgrade plan businesses adopted in the past.”

Callery sorts his disaster recovery solutions into three buckets: updated
software, replaceable hardware and backups. And although all three areas relate
to technology, they are not too highly technical to understand. Take, for example,
installed software. Common sense is a big part of pre-planning.

“You want to make sure the installed software is accessible through
a backup,” he says. “All companies do not maintain the installation
disks of their software in a readily accessible location, and the applied service
packs associated with the currently installed software on servers and workstations
are not always included in the backup process.”

Because it is difficult to find the appropriate software level version on
the Internet for older software — and if the installation is not at the
exact level of the database — incompatibility issues will not allow the
system to run.

“You also want to make sure you are on a supported level of software
and it is compatible with your current operating system. Software publishers
will transition a version of software off of their support list about every
five to seven years. For example, if you have Microsoft Office 97, you will
probably not be able to get support directly from Microsoft. This is the same
with any application and, most importantly, with the vertical market software
companies that support manufacturing, project cost, distribution packages and
other functions.”

Next comes hardware. If a company loses its hardware during a disaster, two
types of hardware need to be replaced as soon as possible: computers and printers.
However, older workstations may not be replaceable in the same configuration.
This was a huge problem for some companies after Katrina and would similarly
be a huge problem now, says Callery.

“Today, you can’t buy a machine with an operating system, such
as Microsoft Windows 2000, and many current business applications still will
not run properly on Windows Vista,” he says. “This presents a huge
problem for companies that developed a proprietary program or those running
seven- to 10-year-old software.”

Older programs will not install on the new operating systems, and even if
the company still has the original operating install programs, Callery says
they will not install on the newer machines. This was quite a dilemma for some
companies that did not maintain current levels of software.

“Printers are also a major issue. You may need to consider special forms
and documents you print on a unique printer. Older printers will no longer be
available on the market, and if you were able to find a used printer, the drivers
will probably not be available.”

BACKUP TO BACK DOWN
Even though backups seem rudimentary, they are a huge, necessary component of
disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

“Most firms are not fully prepared based on current backup trends, and
only a select few are really taking advantage of the newest in disaster recovery
and business continuity solutions, especially the smaller firms who are traditionally
the worst with regard to a reliable disaster recovery plan,” says Matthew
Hahn, MCSE, directory of IT Services for SWK Technologies, Inc. in Livingston,
N.J. “These firms use tapes and have a very small retention window, and
backups and restores are rarely tested unless an emergency occurs. As a result,
a test of whatever system that is in place usually isn’t properly put
through the restore paces.”

SWK, a reseller of software and provider of consulting solutions, offers its
own BDR (Backup Data Recovery) solution for synchronization of all data, leveraging
onsite and offsite encrypted data storage solutions. In the event of a local
disaster, data is resident at not one, but three secured, encrypted server farms,”
says Hahn. SWK can, for example, send another backup appliance overnight, anywhere
in the world, with the client’s most current data.

SWK is just one of many backup solution providers on the market today. See
Randy Johnston’s column
for more information on backups and the many options and strategies to consider.

“Our solution provides a virtualization component that allows us to
‘bring up’ a virtual image of a production server,” says Hahn.
“If your physical server fails, we can, within a small timeframe, have
a virtual copy of your failed server available for your business to continue.
Our solution also meets various compliances and encryption requirements. All
data stored locally and transferred offsite is totally encrypted and secure.
This eliminates the human error element to a backup plan.”

Callery agrees that virtual machine installations are definitely worth a look
because firms can run multiple servers on one machine to minimize the hardware
cost.

“Running in a virtual environment will enable the company to simply
copy an image of the server to another machine, and you are back in business,”
he says. “Setup and management of a virtual environment can be a bit more
complex since you are typically running multiple virtual machines on one physical
machine. Setup of the environment will need to consider physical size of the
machines, as well as resources allocated to the various virtual machines.”

Callery says the discussion on a firm’s tape backup should never be
overlooked or dismissed simply because the technology isn’t new.

“Companies need to ensure they are actually backing up everything they
need,” he says. “For example, with traditional tape backups, add-on
features are typically required to actually back up a SQL database, but these
add-ons are not part of the base package purchase. Instead, there are other
methods you can use that function within the database itself to create backup
files a traditional utility will find as part of a normal backup.”

The Internet is another option, in which services will log in to the system
remotely via the Internet to back up large amounts of data to remote locations.
Data is then accessible to restore through the Internet, but a firm must consider
cost and accessibility as part of this solution.

“This is not cheap, but costs typically can be negotiated,” says
Callery. “The other aspect is accessibility. While these companies typically
operate as part of a data hosting environment, they will probably be up and
running 24/7. If a widespread disaster occurred where phone and Internet is
not accessible for days or weeks, the data to restore may not be readily accessible.”

Data replication to another company office is a third means for backup, a
solution that has become popular and affordable for companies that have multiple
locations, with at least one of the locations in another geographic location.
“Typically, a company can put in a low-end server, and replicate files
and database changes to that machine during normal work hours,” notes
Callery.

“Utilities such as Shadow Copy and SQL Replication enable this process
to successfully occur, and you can set the time lag on the replication. You
may lose 30 seconds to a minute of data, but you can effectively turn off a
server in one location, turn on the backup server and be up and running within
the hour.”
Callery also offers three pieces of advice:

1. Consider redirection of current workstation settings to the backup server
for production processes.
2. Consider a new workstation environment with same software installation as
current production environment settings.
3. Consider hardware consistency, such as printers and scanners, that may interact
with the installed software to minimize configuration changes if a temporary
relocation would be necessary.

For more than 20 years, Scott H. Cytron, ABC, has worked with CPAs and
accountants, providing public relations, marketing and communications services.
Author of The CPA Technology Advisor’s online exclusive MarketingWorks
column and regular contributor to the
CPATechViews.com
blog, he works with firms and companies in professional services, including
accounting, healthcare, legal, financial planning, collections and debt, and
high-tech. He can be contacted at
scottcytron@cpata.com.

See inside September 2009 issue

The Family Practice

With young professionals increasingly focused on work/life balance issues, many might look to Chad Bordeaux with a little envy, or perhaps as a role model for successfully combining work, family life and technology. The 37 year-old CPA is a co-principal in Bordeaux and Bordeaux, CPAs, PA (www.yourcpapartners.com) a full-service accounting firm in Lake Wylie, South Carolina.

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