You’re a start-up with a world-beating idea. You have funding, enthusiasm, and talent. But do you have longevity? Disaster recovery won’t top your to-do list when you’re trying to change the world, but it’s just as important as the product and business development tasks that you’re focused on right now.
Any firm that doesn’t plan for disaster risks disruption, but start-ups face a bigger risk than most. Whereas established companies may be able to weather the inevitable business and reputational damage that disasters can cause, they can be a brick wall for fast-moving startups that aren’t adequately prepared.
Online code hosting company CodeSpaces was a good example of what happens when you don’t plan disaster recovery properly. The firm, which boasted of its disaster recovery capability, lost its users’ data after someone gained access to its Amazon Web Services management console. The attacker deleted all the instances under CodeSpaces’ care, leaving the company with no option but to shut down shop. A backup strategy that properly protected company data could have saved the business, and its customers’ code.
So, start-ups should start early down the disaster recovery road, creating a plan that will serve as a reliable safety net should the worst happen. Where do they start?
Before you can design a disaster recovery plan, analyze what needs recovering. Documenting your assets is a crucial preparatory stage. Assets may take the form of data, software applications and hardware, along with people and physical premises, depending on the nature of your business.
Map these assets to business processes. How do your people and infrastructure support what your business does, and which of those processes is most crucial? Some aspects of your business, such as accounts payable, can wait a few days before they resume normal service. Customer support or transaction processing will be far more critical. Understanding which assets underpin which processes will give you valuable insights when planning how to recover these processes.
After prioritizing your business processes and the infrastructural assets underpinning them, move on to decide on an acceptable recovery window. This breaks down into two parts:
Recovery Time Objective (RTO)
This is the time that it takes to restore a service after it goes down. Some services have a quantifiable cost of downtime. When Google went down for five minutes in 2013, it cost $545,000 in revenues. Hopefully, start-ups won’t incur downtime costs that large, but calculating the per-minute income from revenue-generating services could provide the basis for a realistic RTO calculation.
Recovery Point Objective (RPO)
This is the point in time that a company restores its data to. The more regular the backup, the more recent the RPO will be. The RPO should reflect a business’s continuity needs. When dealing with financial transactions or customer files, the RPO will typically be far more recent than more static files that don’t change much.
Cloud computing environments such as Amazon Web Services can help to drive down not only their costs, but also their RTO and RPO, thanks to the wonders of snapshotting. Snapshots are a complete, bit-level copy of a volume that take an instant to create and restore, making them a useful tool to preserve a start-up’s data quickly and efficiently. A comprehensive backup scheduling and management policy can also keep backups safe by replicating them across multiple physical regions in a cloud-based system, and copying them between accounts for extra security.
Whether you’re backing up to the cloud or to a separate location of your own, a managed backup service will help to avert some headaches. Backing up data properly is a complex task with many moving parts. Some data may need to be backed up more often than others. Some data may need its backups to be retained longer. Different data sets may have different requirements around security and encryption.
A competent backup operation will be able to set and support policies for these, using them to schedule and manage the backup process. If you’re too busy concentrating on growing your dynamic young business to handle this, consider getting a managed service provider (MSP) to do it for you. The result: peace of mind, and the freedom to invest your time where it is most needed.
In a startup or small business, there are typically too many tasks and not enough people. Consequently, everyone tends to wear multiple hats, taking on different tasks. Job descriptions are a moveable feast.
While this works well for most tasks, it is important to carve out specific responsibilities for backup and restoration. In a disaster, young organizations need a clearly defined playbook that assigns specific tasks to specific people. The goal is to get up and running quickly, and to let nothing fall through the cracks.
Having clearly defined procedures and responsibilities will make it easier to test a disaster recovery strategy. This is a measure that many start-ups may ignore as they triage tasks and prioritize their more pressing jobs. Carving out time for this is nevertheless crucial. Proper recovery testing never seems important until a company tries to restore files after a disaster and finds a problem.
Creating and supporting a disaster recovery strategy eats into a resource that every start-up lacks: time. Nevertheless, the smart start-up will realize the importance of planning for the worst. Proper preparation, along with the use of cloud resources, can help make an otherwise daunting process more tractable. Doing it now rather than later could save you significant headaches—if not an existential crisis—in the long run.
Danny Bradbury has been a technology journalist since 1989. He writes for titles including the Guardian newspaper, and Canada’s National Post. Danny specialises in areas including cybersecurity, and also cryptocurrency. He authors the About Bitcoin website, and also writes a regular blog on technology for children called Kids Tech News. You can follow Danny on Twitter at @DannyBradbury
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