Disaster recovery

This blog is an extension of our June 2011 newsletter. Disaster recovery (DR) is such a huge topic it was too hard to squeeze it all into a newsletter without giving you reader’s block…

According to Symantec’s 2011 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey, 57% of SMBs do not have a DR plan. You may think this is unrealistic but we know that it’s pretty dead on.

DR options

Quay has several cost-effective options for disaster recovery including a great offsite backup service called Black Box Backups. See http://www.blackboxbackup.co.nz for more information. For only $0.80 cents a GB you can get an offsite backup service which stores data both in Wellington and in Auckland. Quay has been so impressed by the robustness of this set up that we are using it ourselves as part of our own disaster recovery plan.

Black Box uses Datacom’s infrastructure which automatically replicates between here (Wellington) and their data centre on the North Shore.

Black Box requires software to be installed on the server. A seed load (that’s a copy of all the current data on the server) is then sent to the data centre and uploaded. From there the software sends incremental changes to the data centre every night.

On Site options

Something that we consider an essential part of any disaster recovery plan is VERY good backup software. An example of this is ShadowProtect.

ShadowProtect is a great bit of software that you can load on your server (there is a version for desktops too). It will backup to an external USB drive, an internal drive or another device on the network. The software creates an image of your server (or desktop) that you can then start up on a similar or dissimilar piece of hardware making it extremely effective. The engineers can recover a server in under half a day.

The technology in ShadowProtect “snapshots” your server or servers at scheduled times . This snapshot is an exact copy of your server at that time, including the operating system, applications, configuration settings and data. Snapshots are saved to an external hard disk, usually USB connected.

Snapshots are fast to create and small in space, which means that you can schedule them to be every fifteen minutes or as often as your business needs them.

ShadowProtect images enable you to:

  • Do rapid recovery from bare metal, to dissimilar hardware or to and from virtual environments
  • Run centralised backup administration from a management console
  • Verify and re-verify your backup images
  • Do quick failover to a virtual server with VirtualBoot
  • Do automatic backups of SQL, exchange and other critical applications
  • Do granular recovery of individual files and folders in moments
  • Schedule automatic full and incremental backups as often as you need

Traditional backups to tape are usually done after hours, starting late evening to be completed before business opens the following day. But several common issues arise:

  • The tape has not been changed the previous day, so the backup does not go ahead.
  • There is too much information to backup so the tape fills up and is delayed while waiting for an additional tape.
  • Backup jobs run over time as there is too much data to fit on a single tape and continue on into the following day causing delays for users.
  • Restoring from tape can be a labour intensive process

Tape backups still have their place in the IT world but you do have to think about the time to recover data. We recently did a test disaster recovery on a server for a client. This was done under the assumption that their server was completely dead. We had to find a suitable piece of hardware then install their operating system (in this case it was SBS 2003 – Small Business Server 2003), install the backup software, then attach the tape drive and recover the data. All this took more than 16 hours.

Businesses need to make sure that they have addressed these things in their DR plans:

  • How long will it take to recover your data? If it takes two working days then you have to take that into consideration.
  • How will your business be affected – will you be able to run at all??
  • What is the most critical thing that you need access to?
  • Also don’t forget that it will then take you up to two days to enter everything in the system that was NOT entered during outage.

Some people have great difficulty remembering to take the tapes offsite. A backup is brilliant but if the building burns down and your tape or USB drive is in there, it does not make for great DR. If this is one of the issues that you have then have a chat to Online Security Services. We have a number of clients using their service so we know that it is tried and tested. They will come and get your tape or drive from you as many times a week as you schedule with them. They will move it out of Wellington and then rotate it the next week. I have done a quick add up and to take one tape or drive to Auckland costs approximately $27.50 per week, which is pretty good for peace of mind. http://www.onlinesecurity.co.nz/

Making a start on your DR plan

So if you don’t have DR… where do you start? Yes it can be quite a headache and very easy to put it in the too hard basket or … the “I will do this tomorrow pile…”

I write A LOT of DR plans for businesses so I thought I would give you some pointers to get you going:

The first thing to start with is the contact details of all the relevant people in your business. Make sure you include their after-hours details. List your providers and their out of Wellington contacts in case of earthquake. You need to include:

  • The directors
  • Relevant staff
  • ISP details (internet)
  • Telecommunications (phones)
  • IT people
  • Accountant (very handy if you need assistance with your accounting software)
  • Custom software suppliers (in case you have custom software that will need to be reinstalled)
  • Domain name details in case you need to redirect email, etc

Once you have done this you are, believe it or not, half of the way there… Work out where your backup is going to be in the event of fire, flood or quake, then have a think about how you are going to recover the data… This is where you can get some input from your IT providers.

We can help you do your DR plan

Hopefully this has given you some useful thoughts… Just give the team a buzz if you want to have a coffee and pick our brains some more…

Check the IT when you buy a business

What is the existing IT worth? Make sure you don’t buy a lemon!

When you are buying a business, ask yourself: what is the existing IT infrastructure like? What do I need to look for? Am I going to be up for a bunch of extra costs right when I don’t need them?

It is well worth getting a second opinion on the existing IT in a business BEFORE you purchase. We have a come across some interesting cases in the last few months that have made us think – for instance a guy bought a business in Wellington, only to find that the server had no backup software, no antivirus and there has been no maintenance done on it for over 3 years. ALL of the PCs needed to be replaced. He is looking at $2000 to get the system updated with backups working and antivirus installed and another $8,000 – $10,000 to get all the PCs replaced.

Some things to look for

Hardware

  • How old is the hardware: the PCs, servers, printers and routers? There should be invoices for the purchases – ask to see these.
  • Remember if these are on the books as assets then they may have been deprecated off the books. It is still worth having a look at the original invoices to see what exactly has been purchased against what is installed AND even if they are old enough to be depreciated off. It is better to know now what future costs you may be up for – then you will have no nasty surprises.
  • What is the mode of the PC/Server ? It is very important to check this out.
  • Is the PC a consumer model? (If so, it means that you may not get as long a lifespan out of it).
  • If it is a non branded machine, are parts easily available? (If it is over 3 years then this is less likely.)
  • Is it still under warranty? If it is a branded machine like HP you may be able to purchase warranty extensions, giving you a bit of piece of mind for another year or so.
  • If the server is backing up to tape, when were the tapes last replaced? What tapes are offsite ?
  • Have the backups ever been tested? That is, can you actually retrieve data off them?

Software

  • What is the software on the machines – i.e. Office? We are still coming across sites that are running Office XP – which is nearly 9 years old. The licence has just been transferred from one machine to the next…
  • What are the current licences? If they are OEM it means that the licence has to stay with the machine, but if they are Open Value/retail they can be moved from machine to machine.
  • Is the site FULLY licensed? Will you have issues if you get audited?
  • What antivirus is running and where are renewal notifications going? If you miss the reminder and don’t renew, then your system can become vulnerable to attack.

Domain Names

WHO owns the domain name for the business?? For instance, I’ve made sure that I own all the names relevant to my business, i.e.

Quaycorp.co.nz

Quaycorporate.co.nz

Quaycorp.co

Quaycoporate.co

And a few more

Where do the reminders to renew the domain go? This is particularly important – if you miss the reminder and don’t renew the domain and if you are using this for your email – i.e. admin@quaycorp.co.nz – then your mail will stop!

Security

Who has access to the system – i.e. administrator passwords – levels of security.

Checking first saves headaches later

Checking the IT of a business before you buy should be part of your due diligence process. These checks save you from unnecessary expense later on and the hassle of interruptions to business. You can make sure that systems are up to date and protected.

What you find during your checks can help you decide on the price you will pay for the business.