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This may provide little solace for small and midsize businesses brought down by Hurricane Katrina, but for as little as $20 per month they could have backed up their individual workstations to a Hewlett-Packardsite in Seattle.

Solutions like this are out there, said the VARs who provide them and vendors who make them. But SMBs must wake up to their significance.

“The lesson to be learned is one we’ve been taught hundreds of times before,” said Jim Addlesberger, President and CEO of NavigateStorage, LLC, of Massachusetts, a storage VAR specializing in backup and disaster recovery.

“You can’t predict when something bad is going to happen. Whether it is a hurricane, fire, terrorism; bad things happen to good people every day. The best we can do is try to be prepared,” said Addlesberger.

Read here about carriers struggling to restore service after Katrina.

While preparing for disaster comes to the fore following major hurricane such as Katrina, the threat is more present than business owners are willing to admit. That threat is not just from large-scale destruction, but also from localized problems, such power outages, that could spell disaster for your clients, said Lisa Wolfe, Worldwide SMB Business Protection Solutions Manager at HP.

“It could be as simple as human error; someone hitting the wrong button and you’re server goes down,” Wolfe said. “SMBs are at risk everyday. In fact we don’t even like to use Katrinas and Sept. 11’s when we talk preparedness to customers because they are so rare.

“It’s easy for a customer in Iowa to say that will never happen to me. But a fire in his building isn’t so unlikely.”

Most commercial insurance policies will not cover data losses, said Eric Goldberg, general counsel of the American Insurance Association.

But programs such as interruption of business or new cyber risk policies do cover data loss, and are increasingly attractive to customers, but remain rare.

Even so, recent surveys indicate VARs and vendors have a long road ahead convincing businesses of the need to back up their data and prepare to recover it.

Less than one-quarter of businesses have any disaster recovery plan in place, according to a July 2005 report by the Small Business Technology Institute.

The same report found 56 percent of businesses had suffered some loss of business or downtime from an IT breakdown within the past 12 months.

But even disasters like Katrina are unlikely to spur such moves, Addleberger said.

“We all thought we’d see a spike in spending in the market after September 11,” he said. “We saw no change at all. It’s hard to convince someone they’re at risk. Harder if the economy is hurting and IT budgets are tight.”

To read about how telecom providers helped weather Katrina’s aftermath, click here.

Deirdre Crossan, Small Biz Marketing Manager at Symantec, said: “They’re not thinking about (disaster preparedness) the way they should be. They’re thinking about their own business, and doing what they have a passion for. They buy some anti-virus software and think they’re protected. There’s more than they could possibly think about. It’s the resellers who are going to drive this home to them.”

To help resellers and consumers make the move toward better preparedness, HP and Symantec teamed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross to sponsor National Preparedness Month to encourage the implementation of IT preparedness measures. This plan was put in motion months before Katrina.

For VARs, the most important factor may be more than their solutions, Addleberger said.

“It goes way beyond things you can buy,” he added. “It’s more about your expertise. What you can tell them about preparedness. You can have the most advanced system in the world, but if you don’t use it right, what good is it.”

One of NavigateStorage’s signature services isn’t a solution, but disaster audits in which their experts survey businesses to determine their readiness for trouble.

Addleberger remembers one client in New England who came to him after a crisis crippled their business.

“They had the best, a state of the art backup system with a diesel generator,” he recalled. “They had a simple blackout one Friday night and the generator kicked in and the data was saved. That is, until the generator ran out of fuel Sunday night. A simple note to the security guard to call someone would have saved everything.”

“It’s not enough to set up the system,” Addleberger added. “VARs are in a place to make sure the humans running the process know how to do it.”