Seven Tips for Avoiding a Data Disaster
When unexpected events threaten your firm, ensure your company’s critical information is safe in the cloud.

The cloud has been a buzzword in technology circles for several years, but cloud storage has recently moved beyond tech-trend buzz to major adoption across nearly every industry. Many construction firms are now considering the move from standard server deployment to a cloud-based solution. That shift is due in part to the possibility of a disaster—natural (storms, floods, etc.) or technological (power failure, corrupt tape files, etc.). To address these concerns, many cloud providers are expanding their services to those who want to maintain servers on-site while having the peace of mind that comes with knowing their server data is being replicated in the cloud. Recent events—such as Hurricane Sandy and the past year’s frigid winter months—combined with a realization of faulty old storage methods have prompted construction firms to consider disaster recovery. Firms that cannot afford to lose vast amounts of data have begun to incorporate disaster recovery into their business strategies. Contractors could, in many ways, be leading the march to the cloud in the coming years.

The Cloud Is Looking Up

According to SiliconANGLE writer Jack Woods in a Jan. 27 article titled “20 Cloud Computing Statistics Every CIO Should Know,” the following statistics are worth noting.

  • When presented with the option to move only one application to the cloud, 25 percent of respondents would select data storage.
  • Workloads for the public cloud are expected to grow 44 percent during the next five years, while on-site computer workloads are expected to grow only 8.9 percent.
  • Of companies surveyed, 82 percent reported saving money by moving to the cloud.

Other statistics relating to data loss and protection as the main motivator for moving to the cloud are also worth noting.

According to Carbonite, an online backup service, about 70 percent of businesspeople have or will experience data loss due to accidental deletion, disk or system failure, viruses, fire or some other disaster.

Richmond House Group reports that 20 percent of small to midsize businesses will suffer a major disaster causing critical data loss every five years.

This data indicates that the cloud is becoming a prominent tool that is transforming the industry, and it is proving to be an exceptional solution for data recovery and protection. Pittsburgh contractor Mascaro Construction recently made the move to the cloud after doing a routine inspection of their backup tapes. “We store approximately 200 backup tapes at our corporate headquarters,” Steve Powell, Mascaro’s vice president of information technology, says. “We initiated a project to test these tapes, because they had not been tested in two years. After testing, we discovered 140 of the 200 tapes were bad. If we had not uncovered the corruption of these tapes, it could have put us out of business if any type of natural disaster occurred.”

Like Mascaro Construction, many other contractors have discovered the business-saving benefits of a disaster recovery plan, including Pratt Brothers Inc., a company that endured the wrath of Hurricane Sandy two years ago.

The Pratt Brothers’ Story

Hurricane Sandy had a devastating effect on families and businesses in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. when it struck in late October 2012. Homes were leveled and businesses crippled from the impact of the storm’s winds and unimaginable ocean surge. Pratt Brothers Inc., a large family-owned heavy/highway contractor from Bay Shore, N.Y., was located just miles from the heart of the damage and suffered a mighty blow to their headquarters. Ed McCoy Jr., the company’s vice president, and Sue McCoy, office manager, say that having a disaster recovery plan via the cloud enabled Pratt Brothers to bounce back quicker than other firms because their critical data remained intact.

Like so many companies that were 
affected by the hurricane, Pratt Brothers ceased operations when the storm struck, as employees faced more important tasks such as cleaning and rebuilding their homes. Fortunately, cutting payroll checks and following up on new business proposals were only postponed for a day or two. “People couldn’t get to work, [and] roads were completely closed on the island, so coming to the office wasn’t even an option for a while,” Ed McCoy explains. “Fortunately, there were places that had Internet access further inland.” Because all project and business data were stored in the cloud, Pratt Brothers employees were able to gain access from alternate locations to finish a variety of tasks that were interrupted by the storm.

“Being able to access our data in the cloud allowed us to get payroll in order and ready to print,” Sue McCoy says. “It was worth the extra effort and nice to alleviate one major concern.” Looking back, Ed McCoy says he is grateful for the peace of mind he had regarding the safety and security of all Pratt Brothers critical data. “When the storm hit, not having to protect our IT infrastructure was huge,” he says. “I don’t know what we would’ve done if our data wasn’t safe and secure in the cloud. We didn’t have to worry about putting the technology pieces back together, and we didn’t have to worry about getting things up and running once the power was 
restored. That was a big deal. We were able to pick up where we left off.”

The Nuts and Bolts of Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery is a topic no one wants to think about, but most firms realize that they must have a plan in place in case the unexpected occurs. With an explosion of data to manage, companies are looking at how and where the cloud, virtualization and disaster recovery can intersect. The right strategy can successfully unite virtualization and data protection in the cloud to reduce operating expenses and manage massive data growth.

The premise of disaster recovery is 
actually fairly simple. Utilizing the cloud for disaster recovery ensures that your data and other mission-critical applications are being replicated to a data center and that the resources are available to rapidly restore your critical project and business information in the cloud—
typically, in less than four hours and, in some cases, as few as 15 minutes. Generally, the service provider supports and updates all applications that are hosted on the cloud platform, including security, updates and data backup.

Most top providers also support end-to-end encryption, helping ensure your data remains private and satisfying regulatory compliance requirements. 
With a little preplanning and effort, 
utilizing the cloud for disaster recovery can deliver peace of mind and the tools necessary to continue working 
after the unthinkable occurs. What’s your 
disaster plan?

7 Tips for Disaster Planning

  1. Commit to upgrade your business continuity (BC)/disaster recovery (DR) capabilities. A good first step is a business impact analysis (BIA). This will identify your business’s most crucial systems and processes and show the effect an outage would have on your business.
  2. Develop a DR plan customized for your specific needs and environment, including a clear definition of a disaster which consists of an exceptional, unusual and severe situation.
  3. Assign a program owner. Disaster recovery and crisis management require strong and effective leadership.
  4. Identify your mission-critical systems, and define their recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO), including your remote sites. This may include an inventory of hardware (servers, desktops, laptops and wireless devices), software applications and data.
  5. Adopt a cloud backup or cloud replication solution. Ask the vendor which compliance and security standards they conform to. If the answer is SAS 70 or ISO 27001, your data will likely be in good hands—perhaps even better than if it were in your own data center. Other attributes to look for include 256-bit SSL connections to keep the data secure in transit.
  6. Document your DR plan and treat it as a living document, making sure to revisit and update when appropriate.
  7. Test! The only way to know for sure that your data is being backed up properly and that you’ll have access to it is to conduct an occasional test restore. Make sure your vendor has a means to allow you to do so at a time that works well for your organization.