Nearly all businesses now operate in a global marketplace, working with suppliers, clients and colleagues across varying continents and time zones. The ability to do business overseas has been made possible through constant advances in technology that allow effortless sharing of information.
Unfortunately, technological progress has also made us highly reliant on technology. For most companies, storing hardcopies is now uneconomical, and in any case would drive a cart and horses through their CSR goals. With the ability to store everything virtually and give access to employees in a variety of locations simultaneously, company intranets and drives have become an integral part of all organisations. Added to this, the shift towards flexible working and outsourcing to freelancers has greatly increased the need for data to be accessible from multiple locations and by numerous users.
Simply put, business continuity is the process by which SMEs maintain, monitor and back up their most valuable asset – their information. It is not just about how you act when something goes wrong; it is primarily about ensuring you have contingency systems in place so that if the worst happens, you can protect your business as much as possible.
Until recently, the most widely used solution was to have a physical back-up of all your files, which could be switched to in the event of an infrastructure failure. However, this was a very costly option for SMEs, as they were, in essence, paying for something that might never be used.
However, the introduction of ‘the cloud’ has completely changed the way in which we back-up. It is now possible to effectively rent a back-up system from a cloud provider. This lessens the need for big capital expenditure and allows for easy upgrading and downsizing, depending on fluctuations within your business.
When choosing a provider, is important to ensure that you are using a package with enough coverage and real-time protection for your business. Equally, you want to avoid avoid unnecessary costs by choosing a provider designed for a larger or more complex business than your own. There are many options available for those looking into ‘cloud’ back up, with varying levels of coverage depending on the needs of the business.
The amount of coverage you require will depend on the amount of downtime you’d be willing to accept. As a rule of thumb, the less downtime you are willing to tolerate, the more you pay – much like a fully comprehensive insurance policy.
At the budget end of the spectrum, cloud providers Amazon and Microsoft Azure allow you to switch to their standby servers in the event of a disaster with your primary system. You only pay for their servers when you’re using them – which will hopefully be never!
But for your really critical IT functions, where even a few minutes of downtime would be unacceptable, you will need to back-up your data as you go. This raises the more difficult technical challenge of getting your data to the remote site in near real-time. For some businesses, loosing even an hour’s worth of data or contacts could cost thousands and have huge knock-on effects for the company. Although this is a larger investment, you need to weigh up the cost of the initial expenditure vs. the cost of losing vital data.
Ultimately, as more businesses move their entire IT systems to cloud-based services like Microsoft 365 and Google Apps, the need to buy elaborate business continuity packages separately is lessening. The best cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) packages increasingly have business continuity built into them, automatically backing up data – either in the same datacenter that hosts the primary server, or better still in multiple locations so the risk is spread.
So cloud technology has made ensuring business continuity cheaper and easier – but the same guiding principles still apply. The more bulletproof you want your protection, the more you’re likely to have to pay.
By John Dryden, Chief Technology Officer at IT specialists, ITlab