The outlook for small businesses that suffer a disaster of any kind—natural, man-made, or data-related—isn't pretty. According to the Small Business Administration, 25 percent of businesses never reopen after a natural disaster takes them down, and 43 percent close their doors after a catastrophic data loss. If that's not grim enough, 75 percent of businesses that don't have an effective disaster recovery (DR) plan are gone within three years of a disaster.
A big part of the problem is that many small businesses can't afford the IT infrastructure required to safeguard their computers and data. Large companies set up a separate data center. When the main server goes down, they can bring their systems back online rapidly. That way, the organization hardly skips a beat due to the event.
But to do that successfully, a company must maintain all the physical space, hardware, software, power, and cooling that it has in place at headquarters—and that's an expensive business proposition. Further, the organization has to have enough trained IT personnel to run such an operation.
A Disaster Recovery Alternative for Small Business
A company can also rent space and computers from what's called a colocation provider—that costs less but still does not come cheap. However, another increasingly popular option is cloud-based and called Disaster Recovery as a Service, or DRaaS.
"DRaaS is often a good fit for small to midsize businesses that lack the necessary expertise to develop and maintain an effective disaster recovery plan," said Wayne Meriwether, a senior analyst for Computer Economics, an IT research firm in Irvine, Calif.
Understanding DRaaS for Small Business
Cloud computing forms the basis of DRaaS. Today you'll find many service providers with massive data centers at their disposal that offer SMBs various services for a subscription fee. The best known of these is data backup. You pay a certain amount per month or per year to have your business files backed up every day.
But Lilac Schoenbeck, vice president of product management and marketing at DR service provider Iland, said do not confuse data backup and DR.
"Knowing that your data is saved somewhere does not mean it can be quickly recovered or that your applications will be up and running in an acceptable timeframe," she said. "True disaster recovery plans minimize downtime so that your business continues to run when something goes wrong—whether it's brought on by human error, cyberattack, local event, or natural disaster."
DRaaS falls into two main categories. Some vendors offer appliance-based DR. The provider places a specialized piece of hardware in your small business' office. The hardware connects to your network and backs up files to that appliance. From there, the device transmits data to the cloud where it can be retrieved if the data is lost.
Barracuda and Acronis are a couple of examples of this approach. The Acronis Disaster Recovery Service uses an on-site appliance that works in tandem with an Acronis cloud data center to recover and restart systems in the event of an outage. It supports Windows or Linux servers and any applications running on them. Features include individual recovery of documents and email messages.
The second category is direct-to-cloud DR services. Proponents of this approach claim that it offers faster data transfer both to and from the cloud. "If you have no appliance, you can eliminate potential bottlenecks and minimize downtime waiting for a replacement appliance in the event of a disaster," said Chris Schin, vice president of products at Zetta.net.
Established providers such as SunGard Availability Services and IBM Global Services offer direct-to-cloud DRaaS, though they tend to focus more on larger organizations. Some small businesses might struggle with either the cost structure or the personnel needs that these services require.
As a result, a new wave of lower-cost, easier-to-implement services has emerged including Iland DRaaS, the Seagate Cloud Disaster Recovery Service and Zetta.net's DRaaS, some of which deliver DR protection without requiring an appliance. Pricing for Zetta, for example, starts at around $175 per month.
"Small businesses have the same DR needs as larger enterprises, but they frequently lack their IT resources, which make SMBs a good fit for DRaaS" said Schin.
Part of the allure of direct-to-cloud DR is its speed. One study by Mediatronics found that the time required to upload all SMB data to the cloud via an appliance could be up to 15 times slower than going direct to the cloud. The direct-to-cloud method achieves this by taking out the extra step of sending data via an appliance, and using network optimization techniques that compress data and speeds its transmission to the receipt point in the cloud.
But as Dave Simpson, an analyst with 451 Research, pointed out, some small businesses prefer an appliance that they can just plug in on site as it contains all the software they need.