Disaster recovery (DR), often seen as an expensive must-have for corporates, is viewed by many SMEs as an expensive luxury – a view that can frequently end up costing firms more than just a few hours of downtime.
Indeed if the research is to be believed, about seven per cent of companies that lose data following an outage will not survive without contingency measures in place.
According to Will Trotman, senior product manager at Sony Europe, half the battle is to get businesses to think proactively about deploying best practice technologies that can be used to maximise the business operations instead of adopting knee-jerk ‘fix-it’ postures.
However, many now realise that this is a necessity and resellers look set to turn a profit as a result. After initial reluctance, it seems that DR is now rising steadily up the list of priorities for SMEs. Solutions are also aplenty, with offerings from the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sunguard and Dell, which are all making a play for their share of the large SME pie.
Dr Johannes Scholtes, chief executive of ZyLAB, said that he has seen an increased interest from end-users in redundant, geographically separated systems consisting of hardware, software and data.
“Given recent events around the world, every organisation with more than 100 employees is now actively looking into [DR],” he said. In fact, there is a general feeling that SMEs now recognise that data recovery procedures are just one part of a company’s protective armoury. In reality they are only as good as the archived information they have access to at any given moment, Scholtes added.
There are various ways of doing this, but electronic data is easy to copy and store in alternative locations through various techniques such as mirroring and remote backups. More importantly, it is affordable.
According to Scholtes, there is also a growing feeling that firms need to have copies of their paper archives either in an Electronic Document Management system (EDM) or in double storage.
EDMs offer companies a good solution because they not only improve processing productivity on a day-to-day basis, but they can also offer improved information recoverability in the event of a disaster.
“Establishing a system of improved auditing and activity logging makes it easier to quickly access and retrieve records that are stored, even from a remote location, which streamlines the audit trail should a business experience a sudden loss of data,” Scholtes added.
There are various solutions and strategies that can be deployed to aid DR, ranging from high-tech archives that mirror the original information to cheaper tape and optical back-up technologies.
But, Scholtes said, the key for resellers is to focus on providing solutions that not only provide the level of security suited to the individual needs of each business, but that are also easy to install, maintain and most important can be shown to offer real financial benefits.
“In this way, the easiest and most effective solutions to sell are double systems consisting of hardware, software and data,” he said.
There is a now a growing demand for solutions that enable SMEs to digitise paper as being another great source of potential revenue, offering high margin and the opportunity for resellers to provide SMEs with a full portfolio of DR solutions.
“We have seen many of our resellers achieve a great deal of success in this area,” Scholtes added.
Rob Gretton, business development director at DisUK, a vendor with an established background in business continuity and DR planning, believes that many SMEs still are not doing enough.
“The SME will have some form of IT recovery strategy in place – for example, if they lose a server. But from a business continuity perspective, they are sadly wanting,” Gretton said. “If the company building was destroyed or they lose staff, they would find it difficult to keep going.”
A lot of these companies also work in a shared environment and probably do not have direct control of their whole IT infrastructure. Some parts of it may even be completely out of their control. This could cause a loss of access to equipment through simple construction reasons, leading to the invocation of a DR scenario for some.
In addition, what many SMEs see as DR often just covers IT and does not include the bigger picture, with most treating DR and business continuity (BC) as the same thing when they certainly are not. SMEs also very much look at this as an IT problem, when it is really a problem to the business.
According to Gretton, resellers need to take an undivided approach to the business as a whole rather than viewing it as isolated units.
“It doesn’t matter if you have an IT system running. If you cannot use it, you are dead in the water,” he said.
He reasoned that resellers need to educate SMEs as to why it is important to have separate BC and DR plans before focusing on how to develop, test and improve upon them.
“Setting up a programme of constant review and improvement is something resellers can obviously help end-users with,” he added. In the first instance, this will see many SMEs turn to their existing reseller relationships for a solution from someone that they consider a trusted adviser.
According to John Banfield, director of sales EMEA at SteelEye Technology, a great SME reseller will have an excellent reputation as a ‘trusted adviser’ to a core customer base. They should also be able to offer expertise in the key elements required to deliver DR: networking, storage, applications and DR processes such as high availability and data replication. Banfield said VARs should also have an understanding and commitment to vendor solutions from a platform of successful installations.
Banfield offered a slightly different take on the SME market to some of his peers, considering them as important customers in the DR space when looked at as a part of a bigger picture.
“Often an SME is a critical supplier to a larger, regulated company, or it handles valuable or high volumes of sensitive customer information,” Banfield said. “For emerging software vendors, SMEs represent a market segment with clear needs to avoid downtime and data loss for business and regulatory purposes. They will invest in solutions based on commodity hardware that does not require any investment in particularly heavyweight storage solutions.”
However, Banfield claimed that resellers must offer consultancy to develop a DR plan that is appropriate for the SME in question. This is because implementation of a solution typically requires expertise in networking, storage, the applications that require protection and knowledge of appropriate software solutions for DR.
“SMEs more often than not do not have the expertise to assemble a solution themselves,” he said.
As a vendor, SteelEye works closely with its reseller partners to ensure appropriate levels of initial training are conducted and close support offered for implementation, including a services engagement if required.
Guy Bunker, chief scientist at Symantec, maintains that in many cases SME end-users still are not using DR, although he feels those that are using it prefer to use the DR options in the products that they are most familiar with.
“In most cases this is from their backup vendor because often backup and DR are lumped together,” Bunker
said. “Many SME resellers do not sell a true DR solution. They tend to sell the pieces such as backup, clustering and replication, but do not offer a complete solution.”
Regarding consultancy and testing, Bunker said that successful resellers should offer to be available when the test occurs, most likely at a weekend. Most agree that Saturday mornings usually provide the optimum time for this as all those concerned have more than one-and-a-half days to sort out any teething issues before the working week starts again.
“Once a plan is in place, test it regularly,” Banfield added. “It is also worthwhile to check that there is an elegant switchover from the DR site back to the primary server after a failure.”
Furthermore, software solutions are constantly evolving to use bandwidth more efficiently and offer replication for DR to more than one location. This should improve the cost effectiveness and offer more flexible DR scenarios for companies.
Put simply, SMEs face the same issues as larger enterprises, but typically they have less money and fewer in-house skills to deal with associated problems. As such, the hardest part of DR planning is not setting up the technology, but thinking about what elements of the business are critical and by how much. VARs must look to maximise product knowledge and help SMEs make the right decisions here as they look to build relationships and new business.
DR remains essential for companies to increase competitive advantage, maintain profitability and stay in business.
As Trotman puts it: “Being able to recover from downtime remains central to the heart of any IT operation. At some stage it is something that all SMEs will face, whether as a result of a natural disaster or equipment failure. For those that fail to plan, death is almost a certainty.” C
>> Further reading:
DisUK (01327) 856 070
Sony Europe (01932) 816 000
SteelEye Technology (01223) 208 701
Symantec (0870) 243 1080
ZyLAB (0276) 850 973
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