Data, stored digitally, has become critical to a business’s ability to function. However, major catastrophes — from fires to earthquakes to floods —can cripple hardware and put terabytes of a company’s data at risk in just a moment’s notice. In light of this risk, it is vital to have a business continuity plan in place to protect your digital information.

“A business continuity plan is insurance for your data,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “It ensures that your business can sustain a disaster that affects your ability to access data at your main site.”

But, as with any emergency preparedness drill, you need to implement and practice your business continuity plan now, before you need it, as once a disaster strikes, it may be too late.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about data security and the role it plays in a business continuity plan.

What is a business continuity plan and how can it impact a business?

From a technology perspective, a business continuity plan is your strategy for resuming business following a natural or man-made disaster in as short a period of time as possible. Your plan should be based on the type of data you create on a daily basis, how it is being maintained and the amount of time your business can operate without being able to access it.

Business plans differ from company to company. For example, take a retail operation that tracks customers’ purchasing habits, and suddenly that information is unavailable because of a hardware failure. That data set isn’t as critical to the business as its ability to process customer credit cards, which is why a business should have multiple plans based on data type. If you can’t sustain being down more than a few minutes, that data is critical, and that plan will look different than plans that pertain to data you can live without for hours or days.

Business continuity can save a business even when there is no disaster. Accidental removal or deletion of certain data sets can be very damaging to a business. However, if you have a business continuity plan and regularly back up your data, you will have less reason to worry and will be able to sleep much better knowing your data is safe.

What are the elements of a business continuity plan?

First, determine how you will back up your data. Critical information should be backed up every hour. Less critical data can be backed up more infrequently.

Backing up data can be a mundane task, and some companies assume it is happening, only to find out after a disaster that it is not. Make sure data is being backed up and secured off-site so that, if you can’t get to your office, the data is available to you. Your backup site should be outside of your primary location.

Second, you need a plan to restore your data when things come back online. Test your off-site server to understand how much lag time there is until data can be restored and employees can start using it to continue business operations.

Third — and this is where a lot of businesses are now looking — is outsourcing your primary server farm or infrastructure to an outsourced data center. A typical outage or inaccessibility of data can occur because of power or cooling failures, as most buildings are not designed for multiple levels of data redundancy or for a major connectivity failure from the fiber on the street.

Outsourcing your server to a data center means it is housed in a facility with multiple levels of redundancy designed to sustain power outages and that has multiple, high-speed connections coming from diverse entrances so data can be accessed even if the fibers are cut in the street. You can use facilities such as these as your secondary server, no matter where your business is located. Then, if something happens, you will have access to your data and can continue to function.

When should a business continuity plan be implemented?

The minute you have critical data, you need a plan to back it up. It depends on the type of business. If you provide a consulting service and your first few months are spent creating proposals, it is not as critical to back that up as long as you have a second copy or could recreate it. However, businesses with more critical data should protect themselves immediately.

With the economic downturn, many companies cut the aspects of their business continuity plan that dealt with data protection because it doesn’t get used until a disaster hits, and it is an easy area to squeeze the budget. Businesses are saying they have a limited budget and they have to continue to operate, so they will just deal with it when it happens. But by then, it is too late.

How does geographical diversity play into business continuity?

Consider what a disaster can mean to your operations and what your business can sustain in terms of cost. The farther your backup servers are from your primary site, the more it costs to transfer information from one place to another. Smaller companies could likely use a public connection to transfer data without incurring too much cost.

The farther away you keep your data, the more redundancy you can create with a solid plan. However, the more redundancy you create, the more costs increase. It is less expensive if you keep your data closer to your primary location, but it also increases your risk, for example, in the event of an earthquake or hurricane. But, ultimately, the question you should ask is, ‘How long can I afford to go without

access to my data?’

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or

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Published in Los Angeles