|hen it comes to backing up data, small businesses aren't playing it safe.
Solution providers say many small companies have inadequate backup technology and practices. The problems range from insufficient storage capacity and an inability to use backup solutions to a lack of backup testing, no off-site data storage and inconsistent backup procedures. Worse, the idea of backup simply takes a backseat at a number of small firms, they say.
"There are still some small businesses that don't even do backups," said Rob Didlake, founder and CEO of Dataedge Solutions, a Kansas City, Kan.-based solution provider. "I ask them why not, and they say they don't know how to back up data."
According to a survey commissioned by storage media vendor Imation (see sidebar), 30 percent of small businesses lack formal data backup and storage procedures or don't implement those practices consistently. Thirty-nine percent of small firms, in fact, admitted they review their storage procedures only after a problem occurs, the study said. What's more, 34 percent of respondents said they do a fair or poor job of storing backup data off-site, 17 percent don't consistently perform incremental data backups, and 55 percent rate their disaster-recovery plan as fair or poor.
The bottom line: Small businesses are in serious need of skilled hands to help them beef up their backup.
Take Nevada Security Bank in Reno. When a solution provider recently helped the community bank switch from a manual tape backup system to one that does backups automatically over the Internet, the staff was pleased, said Jack Buchold, CFO and executive vice president at the bank.
"These people are not techies," Buchold said. "If the tape goes in and then it pops right out, they don't know what to do. One lady told me later that she couldn't do the backups for three days because the tapes always popped out."
Such problems are widespread among small companies, said W. Curtis Preston, president of The Storage Group, an Oceanside, Calif.-based storage analysis firm. "In general, backups and restores in small businesses [stink] royally," he said. "It's rare to have a small company with a dedicated [backup] person. So backups go ignored. Even if a company has the right tools, they're configured wrong."
Reasons for that situation abound, Preston said. For example, small businesses typically might have a CD-R drive for backing up their documents directory or even a DAT drive or Travan drive with automated backup software for that task, yet they seldom test restores of their data, he said.
Another common reason for failed backups is an upgrade to Microsoft Windows, which means a PC's DOC directory may have moved, Preston said. A small company's 40 Gbytes to 50 Gbytes of storage capacity also may quickly fill up with junk, forcing it to cherry-pick files to back up and, in the process, miss some important files.
Very small businesses,those with one to three PCs and no server,likely wouldn't survive a fire that destroyed their computers, Preston added. Small companies with a server, too, would be hard-pressed to recover if a system went down, even if the emergency didn't affect the rest of the office, he said.
And problems affecting data can come from the most unexpected places, said Eric Koskoff, president of Multi Media Management, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based solution provider. "One customer had a key technical person leave and then found out that the source code for its application was missing," Koskoff said. "Several people had worked on the application over time, but none of them took the source code."
While few business professionals would dispute the value of backing up key data, small companies generally don't rank backup high on their list of IT spending priorities. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 meaning top priority, small businesses rated backup at 2.8 as a spending priority, down from nearly 3.0 a year earlier, according to the July CRN Business Spending Survey.
For small businesses that do implement backup systems, hard drives and recordable CD/DVD disks are fast becoming the media of choice, although tape remains popular, solution providers say.
Multi Media Management's Koskoff said some of his small-business customers are using removable hard drives with capacities of up to 120 Gbytes, which work fine for at least four to six months of periodic overwrites. But for longer-term storage, those companies are recording on CDs or DVDs, he said.
"I increasingly suggest DVD," Koskoff said. "It gives eight times the space of a CD, and that difference [in capacity] is rising."
Though tape is far from dead as a backup medium for small firms, its use will change dramatically over the next few years, said John Zammet, president of HorizonTek, a Huntington, N.Y.-based solution provider. A growing number of small businesses will start doing backups to disk,from vendors such as Quantum, Nexsan Technologies, Avamar and Overland Storage,and then move that backed-up data to tape, he said.
Stephen Allen, president of Integrated Technology Systems, a New York-based solution provider, said 72-Mbyte DAT tapes are suitable for backing up small amounts of data, but he recommends an LTO drive for customers with 50 Gbytes to 60 Gbytes of data. It's important to automate the backup process as much as possible, including labeling the tapes for customers, Allen said, adding that he uses applications such as Veritas Backup Exec, which even tells users which tape to put in the drive.
Still, such technology doesn't always help as much as it should, The Storage Group's Preston said. The tape drive formats that small businesses typically use,DAT or Travan,have reliability problems, and more reliable drives such as Quantum's Value DLTtape line start at around $800, which makes them expensive for small companies, he said. And even when the drives are implemented correctly, users might not always be diligent in their backup practices.
"Customers may not swap out the CDs or the tapes or take them off-site," Preston said. "If you ask them when was the last time they copied data to their CD-R drives, they might say it has been months."
Instead of letting small-business clients spend $1,000 on a tape drive and then purchase backup software, solution providers should sway them to invest that money in building a PC with a terabyte of storage and then connect it to the network for use with Windows' built-in data sharing capabilities, Preston said.
And backing up should involve more than just copying customers' files on a regular basis, Dataedge Solutions' Didlake noted. As part of its backup service, the solution provider inventories all of its customers' software and either keeps original copies of their applications or insists that they safely store those applications and their keys, he said.
Some solution providers and service providers also are looking to implement Web-based backup systems for clients. For as little as $115 per month, a small business can have its data backed up to and restored from a network operating center owned by Aztec Systems, said Andrew Levi, founder and CEO of the Carrollton, Texas-based solution provider.
Aztec replicates its customers' data nightly within the network operating center and sends it to its corporate offices 15 miles away, Levi said. The company also regularly tests its batteries and UPSes to ensure that power failures won't affect availability, and it does a full shutdown test about once every six months, he said.
Smaller businesses looking for a cost-effective way to do backups remotely over the Web or phone lines can take a $200 PC, put it in a closet at the boss' home and connect it to the office via software for backing up mobile PCs over the Internet, Preston said.
What exactly should be backed up depends on the user, said John Thome, vice president of Chi, a Warrensville Heights, Ohio-based solution provider. Sometimes customers may want to back up specific data only, everything on their C: drives or most of their data except for certain items, he said.
"If it's not a sophisticated user, he will probably back everything up," Thome said. "If the user is more sophisticated, he may know what not to back up, like a large SQL Server test file."
Once information is backed up, it's vital to do a regular test restore to ensure that data can be recovered in an emergency, Thome added. Most small businesses back up data to and restore from another volume on the same server where the data is kept, he said. In that case, they can test whether the data can be restored if it's corrupted, but they will never know if it can be restored in the event of a server crash, he said.
To make sure a system can recover from a full crash, it's necessary to do a bare metal restore test, which requires that the server be turned off and then brought back to its original state, according to Thome. "Most customers won't purposely wipe out a server and do a restore, because they don't have a redundant server," he said. "If the customer has a redundant server, he might try a bare metal restore. If not,and most don't,he won't kill the server."
Because small businesses don't test restores as often as they should, Integrated Technology Systems' Allen said he recommends that clients schedule a minimum of 10 tapes to be rotated between backups, or a minimum of 21 tapes if the customer has mission-critical data. "That way," he said, "we can always find a good tape if we need to."