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Hurricanes such as this year’s Ike and 2005’s Katrina are natural disasters that unfurl in slow-motion. Ike entered the inner Caribbean on Sept. 1 but didn’t make landfall in Galveston, Texas, for nearly two weeks. This gave tens of thousands of coastal residents time to evacuate to safer areas. But two weeks of preparation wasn’t enough to avert nearly $30 billion in damage to residential homes and businesses.

Fortunately, many businesses yielded to the lessons of previous events and took precautionary measures to secure their mission-critical data and IT resources.

“On Friday, we heard Hurricane Ike was coming through Houston,” says Lester Keizer, CEO of Ron Cook’s Connecting Point Technology Center in Las Vegas. “Before the hurricane hit, we had put all our clients’ data in a virtualized environment in case they were wiped out. Professionally, at least, they were able to sleep peacefully that night because, luckily, all they did was lose power.”

Connecting Point uses an approach—dubbed Xilocore–it co-developed with Alan McDonald, founder of AllConnected in Simi Valley, Calif., that brings business-continuity capabilities to SMBs and enterprises. All data is backed up in both Las Vegas and Simi Valley, enabling the partners to restore a client’s IT environment–including applications, data and server system-states–from either location, says Keizer. Clients can securely log in from any PC to access their corporation’s data, enabling a company to be back in business soon after a disaster has passed, he says.

“They can be in China. They can be in Starbucks,” adds Keizer. “They can be 500 miles away and have their company up and running.”

Disaster Recovery: A Daily Concern

While headline-making hurricanes and other devastating weather events often spur companies to address their disaster-recovery and business-continuity strategies, each day organizations lose data through keystroke errors, theft, electrical brownouts and power surges.

“Every time a disaster happens we get more calls and more nervousness about what to do to protect against the next disaster,” says Keizer. “Sometimes the owners forget–and once they realize it becomes even more compelling–is that most disasters are local and most are keystroke disasters. Those kinds of localized office disasters happen just about every day.”

In fact, 46 percent of Carbonite clients accidentally delete something each year, says David Friend, CEO of the automated online backup company. Carbonite’s solution, which runs in the background of a user’s PC, costs $50 per year, regardless of the amount of data stored, and increasingly is being sold through solution providers, he says. In fact, the Boston-based firm plans to release a version with administrative features that was designed specifically to attract solution providers, says Friend.

“There are all the other forms of disasters. My daughter had somebody spill a soda or beer on her laptop once and it blew up. They get damaged. It doesn’t matter if it’s fire, flood or sprinklers going off,” says Friend. “When we see a big flood like [2005’s Hurricane] Katrina, that becomes a hot spot for us. Sometimes you get thousands of computers destroyed all at once, and a percentage of those are generally backed up by companies like Carbonite."

If you’re a small business or a freelancer, you’re generally in a hurry to get it back because it’s your lifeblood. Usually, if you’re doing your backup manually–burning a bunch of CD-ROMs–the backup is going to suffer the same fate as the computer. If you’re really serious about not losing stuff, you really need to get it off premises. It’s just in the last three or four years that it’s become cheap enough and simple enough for consumers to do it.”

Reformed back-upless users include a graduate student, who lost two years of work on his thesis, and a man who was due in court within two weeks, who lost all his evidence, legal proceedings and financial documentation when his computer died, says Friend. “When you look out five years into the future, I can’t believe so many people will have so much of their lives on their computer and they don’t back it up,” he adds.

Tried and True Recovery

Just having some form of backup system in place is not good enough: Solution providers or clients must ensure the viability of the data being replicated, cautions Gary Vaughan, president of Clearpath Solutions Group, a Reston, Va.-based solution provider specializing in storage and virtualization. Some companies take backup data only a few miles apart, to a region that most certainly also will be impacted by a major disaster such as a hurricane.

“It’s embarrassing. I cringe. You don’t have the budget for anything I’m selling if that’s your back-up strategy,” he says. “We actually had a couple of companies in Washington, D.C., during our eleventh month of business that were updating their back-up and storage environments with us. During that process, they experienced non-recovery of tapes that were off-sited, and in one case the CIO lost his job over it.”

That CIO–and many others who have similarly suffered due to the lack of a well-thought-out, proven and tested disaster recovery and business continuity plan–no doubt make sure data is backed up, stored off-site and will work in the not-too-extreme odds that, for whatever reason, the company finds its data or systems impaired.