What Data are You Willing to Lose?

Data may have always been the unsung hero at the heart of businesses, but now more than ever it’s in the spotlight. Whether being talked about in explosive terms, such as “data volumes are increasing at a compound annual growth rate of sixty to eighty percent,”1 or in the context of game changing insights derived from big data and analytics, data is making headlines.

What doesn’t usually appear in bold print or 140-character tweets is what happens if that data isn’t there—if due to some situation, your business data is lost; maybe only a few hours or a day’s worth of data, but gone nonetheless.

Some forty-two percent of small organizations have experienced data loss, and thirty-two percent have lost files forever.2 RJ Nichols, channel development manager for Tech Data, has been in the business of helping businesses protect data for 25 years and says that companies need to understand how much data they’re willing to lose and how long their systems can be down.

Perhaps rightfully so, not many business people at small and midsized organizations are aware of Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO).3 Yet, RJ says it’s necessary to communicate these important targets in business terms. “If I’m a small manufacturer, how long can my manufacturing line be down? How many customers will I lose if my shipping tracking system is down and I can’t get orders out today?,” he says.

In that light, backup and recovery may also be ready for its close-up.

Do you really know what needs to be backed up?

Most businesses early in their inception probably did establish an approach to backing up data. However, as RJ explains, over time as the business grows, “I now have ten times the amount of storage I started with and I haven’t upgraded my data protection solution at the same rate as the amount of data that I’m creating.”

To make matters worse, RJ adds that, “I’ve got a two-hour backup window to back up my data that’s growing three times faster each year—data is growing, but backup windows aren’t.” And as servers grow, the amount of time needed to back them up grows as well.

The popularity of virtualization has also added to the problem. While virtualizing servers has undoubtedly saved costs through consolidation, it has created uncertainty about what needs to be backed up.

“When it was truly a physical world only, it was easy to know how many backup servers you needed,” says RJ. “Now that so much has become virtualized, it’s hard to really know how many servers a business has.”

RJ says that you can tell if this might be a problem at your company if you only know the quantity of virtual machines by the number you’re licensed for; there’s probably a lot more out there that you’re unware of. And those machines are not getting backed up.

Backup is one thing, recovery is everything.

When looking to ensure they have a plan that supports today’s reliance on data, companies need to first make sure they can recover from downtime, lost data or a disaster.

The first advice RJ gives to a company is to try to do a restore. “Have you tested your recovery? Have you tried a full site recovery?,” he asks. “Unfortunately that’s going to be a horrifying experience for many people. Backups are probably broken and you never realized it.”

The approach is to try the restore: does it work at all, does it work fast enough, and does it get you to the recovery objectives that you may or may not have? “Armed with that information you can fix what’s broken, document what’s happened, translate it into what-if scenarios and make the executives of the organization aware of the risk,” RJ says.

Increasingly, cloud-based services, including cloud storage and cloud-based backup and recovery, are viable options for many businesses. Yet, while having data in the cloud may shift some responsibility, an organization’s IT team still needs to understand the recovery implications. “It’s very difficult to meet recovery time objectives if you’re trying to do a full restore from the cloud without truly knowing how long it might take,” he says.

RJ also recommends that business requirements drive the decision on a recovery solution for data in the cloud and the associated cost. “It’s important to understand the speed with which your business must recover its cloud-based data—let that help guide your financial decision.” He adds, “Businesses run on data, and knowing what you lose when you don’t have your data can drive how much you’re willing to pay to minimize downtime.”

“Small and midsized companies may not have the resources that larger companies do, but they still have the same challenges of protecting data—which to me means they need to be smarter and more proactive,” says RJ. “If ‘Recovery Time Objective’ and ‘Recovery Point Objective’ seem a little too esoteric, then simply think about what you’re willing to lose or what your business cannot live without, then go from there to protect it.”

He iterates the importance of trying to do a recover before an emergency occurs.”Trying a recover is the only way to know if you’re safe, and don’t be too surprised if you’re not.”

1Webster, John. 2013. “Pay-As-You-Grow Data Protection: IBM Tivoli’s Full-featured Data Protection Suite for Small to Medium Businesses.” Evaluator Group.
2“For Small Businesses, Bad Backup Can Lead to Data Loss.” 2011. Business News Daily.
3Recovery point objective (RPO) is the point in time relative to the failure to which you need preservation of data. Recovery time objective (RTO) is the length of time that it takes to recover from an outage (scheduled, unscheduled, or disaster) and resume normal operations.

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