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A natural or man-made disaster can strike anywhere, anytime, with ruthless and devastating results—that’s the awful essence of a disaster.

Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks loom large in the collective memory for the magnitude of their destruction, but smaller-scale, localized disasters happen all the time: a fire in a building, human error that erases a server, a power outage in a town. Each can wreck a business in minutes and is much more likely to happen than a terrorist attack or a hurricane.

As gloomy as those scenarios may be, the name of the game for companies is “prepare for the worst; hope for the best.” Companies can minimize the worst possible disruptions to their businesses and the lives of their employees by creating disaster recovery and business continuity plans. Such plans are not just for large and well-connected companies, but for small and midmarket companies as well.

These plans can protect company data and applications, and they can have a company back in business within 48 hours or less after a disaster. That’s where savvy solution providers come in. They can provide the consulting expertise to help companies craft their plans and then flesh out those plans with technology solutions.

“Interest in DR and BC plans has been growing dramatically among midsize companies,” said Jim Addlesberger, president and CEO of NavigateStorage, a Concord, Mass., storage VAR specializing in backup, disaster recovery and business continuity.

Addlesberger estimated that his DR/BC business is growing about 30 to 40 percent per year, with growth fueled by an increased understanding among midmarket companies, as well as small businesses, of the impact a disaster could have on their business.

Data replication software is one of the key components of any disaster recovery plan. Click here to read more.

“Small companies usually don’t have a DR or BC plan because they can’t afford one or think they can’t—not understanding that if a disaster strikes they may go out of business,” Addlesberger said.

However, Addlesberger emphasized that there’s no reason why a small or midsize company cannot do basic backup of data, applications and operating systems, given the vast amount of products out there.

“A small company can do lots of things to protect its digital assets, such as replicating information on a server at the owner’s house,” Addlesberger said. “I always tell companies they can never have too many copies of their digital assets.”

One of the first things VARs should do is help companies decide whether they want to have a disaster recovery or a business continuity plan, said Ron Cook, president and chairman of Connecting Point, in Las Vegas. “A DR plan and a BC plan are not the same thing.”

Cook explained that a BC plan looks at the immediate and temporary restoration of critical business functions so a company can survive a disaster.

“A BC plan does not address the complete restoration of a business to its predisaster condition—that’s what a DR plan does,” Cook said.

“When we ask businesses about their business continuity plans, we often hear ‘We do tape backup,’” Cook said. “After we ask a few questions, business owners realize that a tape backup—even a current one with an off-site copy—is not enough to provide them with business continuity in the event of a disaster.”

Cook and other solution providers agree that having a tape backup of business data is quite futile for companies in a post-disaster scenario.

IT pros discuss the depths to which disaster recovery planning can—and should—go. Click here to read more.

“Tape backups need to be well-managed, or they are pretty useless,” said Alan McDonald, president of All Connected, a VAR in Simi Valley, Calif. “Only about one-third of small businesses do these backups right.”

“Imagine you are a business owner standing in front of your burned-out building, and you are holding a tape of your business data,” Cook said. “What good does it do you?”

Not much, he said. Among other things, you have to buy a server compatible with your software, make sure it has a tape drive compatible with your tape, load the server software and set up your users with the correct security rights, Cook said.

“Then, you have to install your application programs and reload your data,” Cook said, noting it can take weeks to receive a new server and have it properly configured.

Next Page: Managed Restore backs up data across the Net.

Responding to the pent-up demand among small and midsize businesses for a better solution, Connecting Point recently created a service called Managed Restore, which enables SMBs to back up data and programs across the Internet for as little as $500 per month.

Connecting Point’s backup servers are replicated at All Connected’s office in Simi Valley.

“If a disaster were to happen, we would quickly restore a company’s critical programs and data to our servers,” Cook said. “A company representative would just log on and run the programs from any location through an Internet connection.”

Cook says the service could have a company up and running within 48 hours—a fraction of the time it takes for conventional tape or remote data backup systems.

“Remote replication of data using continuous data protection [CDP] technology is a good way for companies to back up critical data,” Addlesberger said. “And it’s not even that expensive.”

CDP is definitely the way to go for small businesses, said Benjamin Aronson, president of Aronson & Associates, a Sunnyvale, Calif., solution provider specializing in backup solutions.

“For a thousand dollars or so a year plus the cost of the box, a small business can securely back up and restore a PC or server,” said Aronson, who sells an entry-level SonicWall appliance for $1,631.

SAAS’ evolving value will mean more reliance on the channel. Click here to read more.

“This is a great solution for me because I make money by selling the appliance, and I get a recurring revenue stream from selling storage space and maintenance support,” Aronson said. At the same time, Aronson doesn’t have to sweat over backup and restore concerns because SonicWall takes care of those.

Looking ahead, solution providers are optimistic that more SMBs will see the light surrounding DR and BC planning.

“My experience is that smaller businesses think they can’t afford to spend money on DR or BC until I start talking about the value of the data they will lose if a disaster happens,” McDonald said. “Most buy into the need for planning once I ask them how they will manage cash flow and accounts receivables if a disaster hits.”

Herman Mehling is a freelance writer in San Anselmo, Calif. He can be reached at