Why Businesses Should Move Data Backups To The Cloud

Early this year ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald and then a monsoonal trough passed over north-eastern Australia (Queensland and Northern NSW) causing massive damage to thousands of homes, businesses, roads, bridges and other essential infrastructure. Several people died in the tragic floods that resulted. Many homes and businesses were without power, water and sewage support for weeks after the emergency.

While we shouldn’t forget the huge affect these storms have had on peoples’ lives, we should also take the opportunity to look at the impacts on businesses and the lessons that can be learnt. The most important lesson is the importance of disaster recovery plans for businesses.

An important aspect of any disaster recovery plan should be to use cloud computing to keep key business information and applications off-site in secure locations where they are safe from natural disasters such as floods, fire or human error.

Businesses affected by the floods that that did not back up their key business information lost their data under the floodwaters or through water damage and they may never recover. Businesses that relied on on-site devices as their only backup will have experienced significant business delays trying to restore their backup tapes, disks and hard drives.

Earlier this year an American company released the results of their cloud storage adoption survey  suggesting that eighty per cent of cloud storage users claimed that they could recover their data in less than 24 hours (with nearly a quarter estimating an instantaneous recovery). Alternatively, nearly one in six respondents that were not using cloud storage estimated that it would take more than a week to recover their data after a disaster. This is a significant difference.

Business information managers considering ways to maintain operations during (or after) major disasters or disruptions must now consider cloud-based solutions as a necessary component. Cloud technology is now affordable for all businesses. Because the cloud makes information and applications accessible through the Internet it makes it possible to maintain a business even during disasters.

The important lesson is that, as part of your disaster recovery plan, cloud backup is now the best business protection method available to reduce the risk of data and information loss during disasters. For more information about cloud backup contact The Vault Corporation.

Not A Storm In A Teacup – How Mini Disasters Can Affect Your Business

When we think about the natural disasters that can affect our businesses we immediately think of bushfires, floods, earthquakes, blackouts, storms and lightning strikes, or strong winds. These can affect your business operations, computers and your information and data.

But it is not the large-scale disaster, that is most likely to affect your business, instead it will be the local catastrophe, a plumbing disaster, an equipment failure or a power outage.

Problems with humidity

Excess humidity in the air will cause oxidation of electronic circuits, conductors and connectors, and circuits will perform unpredictably. Lack of humidity increases the potential for sparking from static-electricity.

Water and electricity don’t mix

Water damage is a major cause of local computer catastrophes. Water and electricity don’t mix well and short-circuiting and damage occurs. Water ingress is commonly caused by ruptured water pipes. Other causes include:

»  excess vapour condensation within air-conditioners, and

»  sprinkler systems using water rather than Halon (often activated by over-heating, see below)

Overheating is a common failure

Overheating of the computer facility is the most commonly reported cause of computer failure. It can be caused by several events that often do not get noticed by personnel until there is a computer failure.

»  failure of room air-conditioning

»   failure of cooling fans in the computer chassis

»  blockage of air ducts

Excessive heat may damage recording media; it may cause immediate failure of computer electronics; and make some components fail.

Smoke and fire damage memory

Fire in an installation can destroy computer equipment and make the data unrecoverable. Smoke particles are particularly damaging to disk and tape surfaces where data is stored.

Interruption of a disk or tape-write cycle can destroy the contents of open files. Computer operators need to evacuate immediately and often computers are left active during emergencies.

Power spikes and interruptions

Electricity from the public distribution system fluctuates in voltage as well as suffering from unpredictable spikes and contamination from high-frequency noise. Power interruptions are not as dangerous as irregular power spikes that cause heat fluctuations rise and circuit degradation.

Uninterruptable power supplies not full answer

Most computer facilities have installed UPS, Uninterruptable Power Supplies. But it should be noted that valuable data records may be damaged in the switch-over from AC power to DC battery back-up if the files are not closed down properly.

Heat may become a problem if the computers are still operating but the air-conditioning is not.

So don’t overlook the risk of small disasters

You mustn’t overlook the local risks to your information and data. Don’t treat everyday problems as if they are a storm in your teacup. They will have the biggest impact on your business. Make sure you have backup for your information and data and disaster recovery plans in place. Even if you think you will not be affected by big disasters the small disasters will still affect your business.

Are You Still Using Tape Backups?

Still listening to the Bee Gees?

Tape technology, although it offers advantages, is becoming as out-of-date for backing-up up data as reel-to-reel, cassette players and videotapes are for entertainment. No one listens to the Bee Gees on their walkmans anymore. Many small and medium businesses are now moving away from tape technology to disk or to cloud technology.

Jokes aside, tapes do offer resilience, dependability, and durability. Tapes last for decades and have a much longer shelf life than other media. They are not prone to power surges,

What about disk-based archiving?

A better alternative than tape is disk-based archiving and backup. A fast tape backup cannot even compete with a slow disk-based system for recovery times. However, disks are now a lot more affordable and more versatile than tapes, they are not more reliable. The average disk lifespan is around five years so businesses must be ready for their failure.

Time to move to the cloud?

If you are wondering whether it is time to move to cloud backups you are probably well over the Bee Gees and thinking about what is next. Experts are suggesting that the majority of businesses will be using cloud-based data archiving services within three years. More than 50 percent of businesses have already stopped using tape.

What is best for disaster recovery?

With disk backups you can restore files in minutes, which you can’t do with a tape backup. Tapes may be good for archiving but they are not good for restoring a business after disaster. Tape backups are also difficult for organisations generating a large amount of data on a hourly basis.

As the cloud is becoming more established as a backup and archival medium companies can outsource their archiving, backups and recovery management to specialised providers. Paying a monthly fee to a third-party to provide data storage and backups is far preferable than having to manage your storage and backups onsite manually.

Learning Lessons About Firewalls And Backups

Virus Hacker

Virus protection and firewalls are a necessary part of network security. But you cannot rely on them as the only way to protect your business information from attack. You must make sure that you are also backing up your data. George learnt this lesson “the hard way”.

A few weeks ago, [George], [the Manager] of a [computer peripheral  supply] business contacted me urgently to ask for help with a virus infection in one of their workstations.

Learning the lessons about firewalls and virus protection

George told me that they had a strong firewall and virus protection in place and that they undertook regular manual backups. As I investigated I discovered that the virus had got through their firewall and already spread to three workstations.

I started the virus scanning and system updating. As this was occurring the virus scanner started quarantining windows system files because [FOR SOME REASON] users had full admin rights on their workstations [INSTEAD OF USER PERMISSIONS].

User permissions would have restricted the virus from infecting only the logged in user and NOT the whole PC. Then simply deleting and recreating user would have cleaned the virus.

When I had completed the scans and performed a reboot the three workstations completely crashed requiring major repairs to Windows. We finally finished the cleanup three days later. The simple virus clean job taking a couple of hours ended up as a scan, clean and repair of the operating system.

Learning the lessons about backups

A few weeks later George called me again. This time he asked me for help with his server which was continually crashing. I soon found that one of the previous virus-infected users had domain admin rights. After a quick remote login I found the virus had spread itself to the server and had infected the mail server. I recommended to George that he restore the server from his backups, as any attempt to clean the virus would corrupt Windows.

At this stage George realised that the manual backups he had been doing had not been working.

George’s business now had to undertake a major system recovery exercise to restore his operating system, data and mail server. It caused major disruptions and cost him a lot of time and money.

Lessons learnt-virus protection and backup

Too many organisations think that their virus protection will offer them security and protect them from attack. Firewalls and virus protection are necessary and important but they cannot guarantee protection from all viruses and other attacks. To fully protect your businesses information you must ensure that you not only install a firewall with virus protection but also have a fully operational backup system in place. George has learnt his lesson the hard way—we would do well to learn from him and not repeat his mistakes.

For more information about safe and secure backup software and systems contact us.

What Is Your Recovery Time Objective (RTO)?

What is your recovery time objective?Do you know your business’ RTOs?

I have been talking to clients about their computing needs for many years and I have found that most businesses don’t pay enough attention to the simple question:

“How long can our business operate without our Computer Systems?”

As your business grows and relies more and more on electronic information, you must have a recovery time objective (RTO) in place. If you don’t know what I am talking about you really should pay particular attention to this post. I have come across too many businesses that find out about RTOs after a disaster.

What is the definition of RTO?

The RTO is the maximum length of time that a computer, system, network, or application can be unavailable after a failure that is acceptable to the business. The IT department will have the RTOs in their disaster recovery (DR) plan but they must be formulated and agreed by management in the business continuity (BC) plan.

Why do you need to know your RTO?

The different components of a business system and network will have different RTOs, for instance, the servers will have a short RTO because most of the other processes rely on their successful functioning. Specific applications will have RTOs that relate to their operational purpose. For instance the RTO for payroll may be two weeks compared to sales where the RTO may be two days. Applications that manage commodities or exchange rates may have RTO of only seconds!

Different functions within the same business will have different recovery time objectives so it is important to base your overall RTO on the most “mission critical” functions.

How do you work out your RTO?

The RTO can only be determined as a function of the business operations. If an interruption disrupts normal operations it will have a business and cost impact. The impact of the interruption (or disaster) may be estimated as the maximum amount of revenue that can be lost without affecting the short and medium term viability of the business. However, the real cost to the business will be determined by long-term and intangible effects (such as reputational damage) as well as on immediate, short-term, or tangible factors.

In business continuity planning the RTO is established during the Business Impact Analysis (BIA) stage by the manager or owner of the operational process. They are then presented to management for approval.

What does your RTO mean for you?

Once the RTO for an computer, system, network, or application has been defined, your system administrators will decide the best disaster recovery technologies to use. If you need more information about determining your RTO and in the current best solutions for safe and reliable backup systems or rapid disaster recovery please contact us.

Six Reasons Why Backups Fail

Tangled Tape

Are you sure that your backup system is working effectively to protect your business from disaster?

How many people do you know who thought they had an effective backup system in place and when their system crashed they found that they had lost important information?

Sadly I know quite a few people who have lost a lot of information.

There are six common reasons why backups fail.

1. Overly-complex backup solutions

One of the major challenges for IT professionals is making sure that the whole set of business applications they use can interface with each other. If your organisation is using a mix of non-standardised products from different providers there is a strong likelihood that the software integration put in place to make the packages “talk” to each other may not work. If the packages can’t talk to each other the backups may not be working or may be incomplete. Some figures suggest that only about 20% of backups fully succeed.

2. Partial backups lose important information

One of the common backup problems is that some organisations only back up part of their dataset. One published survey of businesses found that 31 percent don’t back up email, 21 percent don’t back up application data, and 17 percent don’t back up customer data (including invoices, amounts owing, contacts, etc.). Some large organisations only back up their network files and not their local files assuming that employees only use the network.

3. Remote locations have forgotten backups

Some organisations with multiple or regional offices have good infrastructure and data management in their head office (often where the IT department are based) but often overlook the backup and data management of remote offices or of field staff. Your IT staff may not be overseeing the data management processes at remote or regional sites as closely as they oversee your corporate office even though the data may be subject to the same compliance regulations.

4. Low frequency backups increases data loss risk

Most companies do a daily backup although there are others still doing weekly backups. If you have a lot of people working on a project there is a risk that if your backup frequency is too low, weeks of accumulated work could be lost only a few hours out from a deadline. Historic information can be archived and will not change very much over time but current project work is being updated in real time in response to demands on your business.

5. Memory device failures

Backup data and information are commonly stored using tape and disk storage devices. Tape and disk storage solutions rely on high quality media. However, if the media is not maintained, not stored properly and not replaced before the end of its effective life there is a strong risk that it will fail at a critical time.

6. Poor software backup processes

It is important to have strong IT management practices in place, for instance, to store information and data in the correct software version compatible with your current operating system. If a legacy system crashes there is a risk that the software environment cannot be recreated and the data is unrecoverable. Your backup processes need to be changed to match changes to the system infrastructure.

For more information about safe and secure backup software and systems contact us.

Safe computing is like safe sex?

I think we know more about safe sex than we do about safe computing. Over the last few decades public education has made us aware of the need for safe sex. I think there are lots of lessons for us to learn from the safe sex campaigns as computer users.

What is safe sex?

Protecting your computer from danger

Safe sex is sexual activity undertaken by people using a range of precautions to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and to avoid pregnancy. It can also be referred to as safer sex to more precisely reflect the fact that these practices reduce, but do not completely eliminate, the risk of disease transmission.

There are many forms of safe sex ranging from abstinence, cybersex, to barrier protection.

How to practice safe computing

Abstinence from computing is not an option in the modern workplace. We cannot avoid using our computers so we have to practice safe computing. However, there are lots of things we can do to minimise risks. Here are a few tips from The Vault Corporation on practicing safe computing:

Barrier protection

  • Keep your servers in a locked and secure location.
  • Make sure you have good firewall protection to protect your network from virus and other malware.

Avoid contamination

  • Keep your servers and computers in a food and drink free environment to avoid physical damage.
  • Make sure you are using good computing practices to avoid virus and malware contamination.

Regular checkups

  • Make sure you run regular checks of your anti-virus software to make sure it is functioning properly.
  • Make sure your security software is current and updated to the latest versions.

Backup solutions

Don’t rely on your safe computing practices because no system can be 100% effective against security and safety breaches.

  • Make sure you have all your files and systems backed up in case of disaster or emergency.
  • Perform automated backups with multiple copies, and tested regularly.

Safe computing is like safe sex, you cannot eliminate all danger but you can reduce the risks to the point where you have peace of mind.

For more information about safe computing contact The Vault Corporation.