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August 25, 2015

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How SMBs Can Minimize the Risk of Downtime

Even the smallest of small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) have finally let go of their old-fashioned paper filing systems, and now store most of their data electronically. Many have become more advanced, using sophisticated applications and leveraging data in new ways to support business strategy. Of course, advanced use of technology and data requires more advanced data protection.

 

Even if you have implemented a data backup solution, you’ll lose a certain amount of data because of an outage, whether it’s caused by equipment failure, a major weather event, or a downed utility pole outside of your office. How much data can you afford to lose? How fast can your data be restored? What kind of impact will an outage have on your business?

 

By establishing recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs), organizations provide concrete answers to these questions. The RPO is the maximum age of a file that needs to be restored in order to resume business operations. In other words, RPO tells you how much data loss will be tolerated. For example, if a certain type of data is backed up every night at 10 pm and that system crashes tomorrow at 1 pm, any data changed between 10 pm and 1 pm will be lost.

 

The RTO is the maximum period of time that an application, service or network can be unavailable after a failure occurs. Basically, the RTO tells you how much downtime and lost revenue your organization can tolerate. Of course, the impact of downtime isn’t just financial. A prolonged outage can affect the confidence of customers, business partners and vendors.

 

RPOs and RTOs help you determine how frequently backups should occur, what kind of backup infrastructure you need, and what your disaster recovery strategy should be. Generally speaking, as RPOs and RTOs become shorter, the risks associated with downtime and data loss are reduced.

 

There are several technologies organizations can use to meet the increased demand for faster RPOs and RTOs:

 

  • A snapshot is a group of markers that point to stored data, creating a virtual copy of that data as it existed at a particular point in time. Unlike backups, snapshots can be performed while systems are online. They also provide faster data restore times.
  • Recovery-in-place, or instant recovery, redirects the user workload to a backup server so data can be restored immediately on a backup virtual machine. When the data is recovered, the workload is shifted back to the original virtual machine.
  • Replication is typically required when recovery-in-place doesn’t restore data quickly enough. This technique updates a secondary image on a separate storage platform, which is booted when a failure occurs so critical applications can be recovered almost instantly.
  • Copy data management reduces storage consumption by saving just the primary data and a single backup. Additional virtual copies can be created on an as-needed basis using a snapshot mechanism without changing the primary or backup copy.

 

Without an advanced data protection infrastructure and strategy, downtime can potentially cripple an SMB. Let the experts at ICG help you better understand these issues and technologies so you can implement a solution that minimizes the risk of downtime.

July 16, 2015

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Ignore Disaster Planning at Your Own Peril

Hurricane season has been quiet so far. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from recent history, it’s that it only takes one major storm to turn thousands of small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) upside down. Unfortunately, most SMBs won’t realize just how unprepared they are until that devastating storm takes down their network and brings business operations to a standstill.

 

A new survey from Office Depot found that 27 percent of SMBs closed their doors within the past year because of weather-related issues. Despite that fact, only about two-thirds of small business owners believe a disaster plan is necessary, and just 57 percent believe they’re prepared for a natural disaster. Respondents believe Internet and phone service would be most vulnerable during a natural disaster, and lost customer data would have the greatest impact on their company.

 

Although most people associate network downtime with storms, floods and fires, natural disasters are only responsible for a small percentage of outages. For example, a security breach is much more likely to take down your network, whether it’s caused by a careless employee, outdated security tools or sophisticated cybercriminals. A relatively minor car accident near your facility could cause a power outage that takes days to fix.

 

Organizations of all sizes, including SMBs, must have a strategy in place for restoring access to mission-critical data and applications with little or no disruption to business operations, regardless of the cause of disaster. Every minute of downtime will cost your company in terms of dollars and reputation.

 

The good news for SMBs is that new technology is bringing enterprise-grade disaster recovery capabilities to smaller organizations. Cloud-based backup, storage and disaster recovery services eliminate the need to purchase and maintain equipment onsite and manage a remote backup site. The emergence of mobile enables employees to remotely access data, applications and business systems in the cloud from virtually any Internet-connected device. With the cloud, you pay only for those resources and services you use.

 

Other disaster recovery options for SMBs include server virtualization, which makes it possible to create a remote copy of an entire data center to ensure fast recovery times. Many organizations are turning over disaster recovery responsibilities to an outside managed services provider. This enables an SMB to leverage the provider’s world-class expertise and technology and spend less time on day-to-day disaster recovery tasks.

 

SMBs should focus on backup and security to ensure the effectiveness of their disaster recovery strategy. The data on a server, computer or mobile device is typically much more valuable and important than the technology itself, so you need to make sure that data is protected and regularly backed up.

 

Are you completing backups? Are they working? How frequently are you backing up your data, applications and business systems? How will you access them when the network goes down? Is your security software up to date? Is the network being monitored to detect potential threats? What preventive measures are being taken to minimize the impact of a disaster? When was the last time you tested your disaster recovery plan?

 

ICG can help you answer these and other questions to ensure that your disaster recovery strategy works. Let’s sit down and go over your company’s business requirements, backup processes and security infrastructure so we can help you develop a plan that minimizes the downtime, cost and impact of a disaster.

February 19, 2015

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Why Cloud Backup Makes Sense for Remote Offices

More and more organizations are geographically dispersed, from branch or satellite offices to remote workforces operating from home. That means more and more corporate data, which doubles in volume every 18 months, is being created outside of company headquarters. Much of this data is mission-critical and must be protected and backed up regularly.

 

However, remote office/branch office (ROBO) backup is much different than data backup at the primary data center and presents a new set of challenges. ROBOs rarely have the dedicated IT staff, infrastructure, bandwidth, clearly defined best practices, and regular testing that exists at company headquarters. As a result, application performance and user productivity tend to suffer. ROBOs will often compensate by deploying their own solutions on a smaller scale, but having disparate systems becomes difficult to manage and scale. ROBO environments are typically less secure, making them more susceptible to data loss and compliance issues.

 

When developing a ROBO backup strategy, organizations need to understand the potential impact on business operations if the backup strategy fails instead of waiting for something to go wrong. Approach data backup as you would with your primary data center. Classify and prioritize data. Plan for the worst and identify the various causes for disaster, including server and storage failure, human error, data corruption, natural disasters, and security breaches. Define recovery objectives for all applications and data by analyzing the how long it would take for operations to be impacted if data or services are lost. Then determine how prepared you are to meet those objectives and regularly test your backup strategy so you can plug any holes.

 

Traditionally there have been two general options for a ROBO backup strategy. Onsite backup typically involves software that backs up data to disk, which is faster, or tape, which is cheaper. A centralized backup model uses remote backup tools to back up ROBO data to a centralized site over the corporate WAN.

 

An increasingly popular third option is cloud backup. Cloud backup uses software to automatically gather, compress, encrypt and send a copy of data via the Internet to a service provider’s offsite server. Instead of purchasing and maintaining a backup system and worrying about under- or over-provisioning storage capacity, an organization pays a monthly fee for virtually unlimited capacity from a service provider. Scalable, elastic resource allocation makes it easy to handle uneven data usage patterns and high data volume, and the organization only pays for storage used. Cloud backup is also ideal for organizations that lack the IT staff, infrastructure, budget and bandwidth required for centralized backup.

 

A service provider’s security is typically far superior to ROBOs, and the provider’s infrastructure is monitored 24/7 and tested frequently. On-demand data restoration supports optimal recovery objectives, and users have the flexibility to access data on any device from any location, which is especially valuable for ROBO users. New software and functionality can be added or updated instantly without requiring a ROBO’s limited IT staff to worry about each rollout.

 

ICG’s managed cloud backup solution keeps ROBO data secure and accessible while reducing capital and operational costs. Let us show you how our flexible, scalable solution brings the reliability and performance of primary data center backup to your branch offices and remote locations.

 

 

January 13, 2015

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Why Every SMB’s Resolutions Should Include Data Archival

The new year is a popular time for small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) to get organized. An important part of this process is figuring out how to use technology to reduce the amount of physical “stuff” in the office, from calendars and sticky notes to cardboard boxes filled with paper files.

 

Although certain data must be retained for compliance purposes, many SMBs just keep everything as a precaution. Whether that data is stored physically or digitally, adding storage space on a regular basis can get expensive as the amount of data being produced continues to skyrocket. SMBs need to determine which data serves a legal purpose or has strategic value, and treat that data as a business asset that is properly stored and protected.

 

Because primary storage capacity isn’t unlimited, developing a sound data archival strategy is essential. Data archival is the process of identifying and moving data that is no longer actively used from primary storage to secondary storage for long-term retention. Data archival is sometimes confused with data backup, which is the process of copying data to a separate storage system so the data can be restored in case of equipment failure or disaster.

 

Data archival brings valuable business benefits that extend far beyond reducing clutter and becoming more organized. Because secondary storage costs less than primary storage, data archival reduces storage costs. By moving data to secondary storage, organizations eliminate the need to repeatedly back up data that hasn’t changed, allowing active data to be backed up more frequently. Data archived to meet regulatory compliance requirements will be well-protected against tampering and remain accessible. Data archival also offers strategic business value because it enables organizations to store large volumes of data for analysis. This data can provide valuable customer and operational insights that can be used to create competitive advantages.

 

Although the concept of data archival may seem simple, effectively archiving data is a complex process that requires an understanding of proper archival policies and best practices. The first step in developing an archival strategy is identifying what data should be archived and for what purpose. Again, it may seem simple to archive all data that hasn’t been updated for a certain period of time, but there are a number of factors to consider. For example, the methods for archiving email, database and file data are very different.

 

Also, what is the lifecycle of various types of data? Can certain data be deleted instead of archived? If data is archived, how long must it be retained? For example, compliance data will most likely need to be retained for a longer period than human resources data. A data archival policy without a deletion policy can become unnecessarily costly in terms of wasted storage space and time spent searching through extra data.

 

Another factor to consider is accessibility. In order to maintain the integrity of archived data, organizations must establish clear guidelines that explain who may access various types of archived data and for what purpose. Once the types of data to be archived, the lifecycle of various forms of data, and accessibility policies have been identified, organizations should evaluate storage media and software based upon cost, control, performance and other factors. Cloud-based storage for data archival is quickly becoming a popular choice of SMBs.

 

ICG makes it possible for SMBs to realize the benefits of effective data archival while minimizing the need to purchase and maintain additional hardware as storage demands grow. Let us help you design and implement an archival plan and choose the solutions that make the most sense for your organization.

December 19, 2014

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Why IaaS Makes Sense for Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

The ability of an organization to recover company data and applications and continue business operations with minimal disruption is absolutely essential. If a major power outage, hurricane, flood, fire or security breach occurred, how long would your organization be out of commission? Would it take minutes, hours, days or weeks to recover? How much money would be lost? How much would your company’s reputation suffer?

 

Increasing technology investments and an increasing reliance upon real-time data and communication have led many organizations to update and overhaul their disaster recovery and business continuity strategies. Challenged to minimize the impact of disaster while simultaneously reducing costs, more and more organizations are finding that the best solutions reside in the cloud. In fact, a recent report from Infiniti Research estimates that the global infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) market will grow approximately 43 percent annually over the next five years, driven in large part by disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

 

IaaS is a model that enables an organization to leverage a third-party service provider’s technology, including storage, servers and networking infrastructure. The provider is responsible for managing, updating, maintaining and securing this infrastructure. Business applications, operating systems and other tools can be controlled by the organization’s IT department through an online management console.

 

The first and most obvious benefit of IaaS is that it significantly reduces capital hardware investments and operational costs for maintenance, power and cooling. Organizations pay for what they need and can automatically scale resources up or down according to business requirements. Rather than investing in IT resources that may only be used periodically, workloads can be transferred to the cloud during peak periods.

 

From the perspective of disaster recovery and business continuity, IaaS provides redundancy that removes the risk of having a single point of failure. Instead of spending days waiting for the data center to get back up and running, the service provider simply shifts IT resources to remote infrastructure, which can be accessed through any secure Internet connection. IaaS ensures a reliable IT environment with little or no disruption to business operations. Security, traditionally a top concern for organizations considering cloud deployments, is typically more robust when using the IaaS model.

 

Simply put, IaaS minimizes the risk of an outage while reducing capital and operational costs. Let ICG show you how to use the power, flexibility and cost-efficiency of IaaS in your disaster recovery and business continuity strategies.

October 2, 2014

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Are You Struggling to Manage Branch Office IT?

The two biggest IT priorities for organizations with branch offices are providing a consistent end-user experience and improving security. But while most remote sites have basic IT infrastructure and services, they typically rely on the main office for IT resources and support. Failure to provide branch offices with the same capabilities as the main office can drag down productivity and increase risk for the entire organization.

 

Branch office users require the same level of performance and secure access to applications, data and services as the main office. They must be able to securely collaborate with other employees and have the same level of responsiveness when IT issues arise. At the same time, data must be backed up and regulatory compliance must be maintained.

July 29, 2014

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Understanding the High Cost of Downtime

 

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Most businesses today depend upon the availability of their computer systems — and that dependence creates tremendous risk. Downtime can and will occur, whether caused by weather-related disaster, power interruption, fire, water damage or human error. The cost and disruption to operations can be devastating.

 

According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, unplanned outages in U.S. data centers cost large organizations just over $7,900 per minute on average in 2013, up 41 percent from 2010. The average incident lasted 86 minutes, resulting in an average cost per incident of roughly $690,000. Those numbers were calculated from an analysis of 67 U.S. data centers with a minimum size of 2,500 square feet.

 

Understandably, those figures are a little hard for small business owners to fathom. If you have just a handful of servers and a couple dozen PCs, unplanned downtime isn’t going to be anywhere near that expensive. But the costs used to derive those figures apply to businesses of any size, and put into perspective what downtime can mean to your business.

July 16, 2014

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Business Continuity, Part 2: What Your Plan Should Include

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In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the risks of poor business continuity planning and the distinction between business continuity and disaster recovery. Although most people associate disaster recovery with hurricanes and floods, natural disasters are far from the leading cause of data loss. Hardware failure, software corruption, human error and security breaches top the list.

 

With the complexity of today’s IT environments and the sheer volume of users, devices and data that networks must support, organizations should operate under the assumption that something will eventually go wrong. The key is to have an effective business continuity plan in place so you can minimize risk and continue normal business operations with little or no downtime when something does go wrong.

July 10, 2014

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Business Continuity, Part 1: The Risk of Poor Planning

 

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Barely a month into hurricane season, we’ve already had one storm leave its mark as Hurricane Arthur left hundreds of thousands of people without power in the U.S. and Canada. If your data center experienced an outage, how much time would it take to recover and access the data and applications required to operate? How much would it cost your organization?

 

While hurricanes and tropical storms aren’t the only causes of disaster, they serve as a stark reminder of the importance of business continuity and disaster recovery planning. The statistics show most organizations are unprepared even though unplanned downtime is virtually inevitable. Research from the Ponemon Institute found that 95 percent of companies experienced a data outage within the past 12 months. Another study from Gartner revealed that approximately one in four organizations have experienced a full data disaster.