Aug 27, 2010 (08:08 PM EDT)
For SMBs, Data Protection Is A Virtual Affair

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What's your best-case scenario for getting back to normal after a worst-case disaster? We first polled small and midsize businesses on that subject back in January 2008; when we revisited our survey, in May, we found there's been some improvement. In 2008, 23% could get mission-critical apps back up in four hours or less. Today, it's up to 33%, based on our InformationWeek Analytics survey of nearly 400 business technology professionals from companies with 1,000 or fewer employees.

Other key changes: In 2010, 62% have business continuity/disaster recovery systems in place compared with 55% in 2008. Consolidation has increased; today, 52% are completely centralized, with one main HQ and no branch sites, compared with 44% in 2008. And the number of businesses backing up to tapes that are taken off site dropped a full 16 points, from 63% in 2008 to 47% in 2010. Use of online backup services posted the single biggest gain, up 10 points.

One head-scratcher: The number of survey respondents who say their organizations are accountable to one or more government or industry regulations fell in every area, sometimes dramatically. Given the state-level laws that have come on the books since 2008, this is wishful thinking on a massive scale, even for small businesses.

Putting a formal business continuity/disaster recovery plan in place and testing it properly costs money, and that's tough to come by nowadays. So to what do we owe improvement in BC/DR? The introduction of new technologies, notably cloud-based storage services, and the maturation of others, like server virtualization and data deduplication, have made effective disaster recovery accessible to a wider swath of businesses than ever before.

Widespread use of x86 server vitalization has had the most beneficial effect on the disaster recovery process. An obvious impact is a reduction in the number of physical servers that have to be provisioned, powered, and maintained at a DR location. A few years ago, even the smallest site would have had a dedicated server for each application that needed to be recovered quickly. But now, a single virtual server host can handle multiple applications. It's not only that SMBs can save money on hardware. The reduced size, power, and cooling footprint of a small blade chassis running several virtual server hosts means that branch offices and co-location centers become potential DR sites. That's especially important for small businesses; when we asked respondents to describe their DR setups, the No. 1 answer (with 28%) was another data center or office within the organization. Just 7% use a specialized co-location provider, such as SunGard--down from 14% in 2008.

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