Is Your Company Data as Secure As Pictures of Your Food?

Simon O'Sullivan
|  Created: February 21, 2017  |  Updated: March 16, 2020

Consumer products such as smartphones carry priceless data of sentimental value and accordingly service providers offer backup services for their customers. In the business world, our data too is priceless in it's own way, in a way where it's much easier to attach a dollar amount to the value. So what are you doing to ensure your valuable data is taken care of?

Every piece of data on my iPhone is automatically backed up. Your company data is worth more than my pictures of my favorite foods, so are you at least doing as much to safeguard it?

A few weeks back, I had a major disaster with my iPhone. I had been out cycling with the phone in my pocket. When I got home, I forgot it was there and threw all of my cycling gear into the washing machine, set the cycle to soak and spin and walked away. You can imagine that sinking feeling the next day when I found the phone completely waterlogged and dead. Someone told me to put it in a bag of rice and leave it in a warm place for 24 hours. The theory behind this is that somehow the rice is supposed to draw out the moisture like some magic osmosis and the phone is restored to its previous condition with all systems functioning normally. I suspect this could work when the phone has been immersed for a few seconds—but an entire wash and spin cycle? I don’t think so.

These days a phone is a pretty important piece of equipment. Mine holds all of my contacts, phone numbers, emails, music and photos. I have this application that records the details of people’s business cards. Whenever someone gives me a card, I take a quick snapshot of it and this application converts it into a contact. I must have hundreds of cards recorded. I take a photo from time to time when I travel and was surprised to find I had 466 photos on the phone. I had more than 1,700 songs and 29 applications as well. I had all my email history from the past five months.

All Data Is Lost, Right?

A few years back, all of that data would’ve been lost, which meant starting from scratch with a new phone. Backing up my phone was my responsibility back then, and I probably wouldn’t have done it. People would’ve told me to back up my phone data and I would’ve ignored that advice. But now in 2014, it’s all backed up in the cloud—automatically.

I bought a new phone and, 10 minutes after switching it on, had my whole life history restored and at my fingertips—right back to the last photo I took, the last song I downloaded, the last email I received and the last business contact I recorded.

Ask Yourself:

A phone is one thing, but can you say you have the same level of protection of your organization’s data?

What’s a Day’s Data Worth?

The data that your company collects on a daily basis is vastly bigger than what’s stored on your simple mobile device. In the case of electronics design, your data is your entire history of innovation and IP, your current projects that represent your near to mid-future revenue streams, and your credibility and reputation within the industry and your customers.

What’s a Day’s Productivity Worth?

And what of down time. How long can you afford to have your have a highly skilled (and highly paid) team of designers sitting idle, not making progress on your projects? How flexible are your deadlines?

Your own backup and recovery strategy will depend your organization’s Recovery Point Objective and Recovery Time Objective

Backup vs. High Availability, Disaster Recovery

In these two seemingly simple questions, “What’s a Day’s Data Worth?” and “What’s a Day’s Productivity Worth?”, are the difference is in High Availability Disaster Recovery (HA/DR) and ‘backups’.

First, protecting your data. Your Recovery Point Objective (RPO) defines at what point in time you want to recover to. Another way of saying it, is how critical is your data and how much are you willing to lose. If you’re taking backups every week, that means you are willing to lose up to one week’s worth of data. The more critical your data, the more frequent you must take a backup, with real-time backups being the gold standard.

Second, ensuring your business continuity. In the event of a disaster, and you lose your primary or production server, your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is how fast you can get back online and back to work.

You have three basic options

Buy a New Machine or New Parts as Needed

This is the least secure option and poses the most risk. If your server breaks, you fix it. If you can’t fix it, you buy a new one and restore from your backup. If you’re lucky, the disaster happens in the middle of a weekday and you can buy parts and be up and running by the next day.

Cold Standby

A cold standby is where you have a backup server waiting, ready to have your most recent backup restored to it. This is called a cold standby because most likely the machine is not powered on.

Warm Standby

The best option is a warm standby. In a warm standby situation, you have a backup machine powered up and always loaded with the most recent backup. Only in a warm standby configuration is it possible to achieve zero data loss and virtually zero downtime and real-time data replication. I say “virtually zero” because inevitably time will be required for a DNS change to redirect all traffic to the backup server.

Configuration A: A simple server-to-server backup configuration.

Configuration B: A simple server-to-cloud backup configuration.

Each organization needs to balance the cost of maintaining a HA/DR server configuration with the value of their data and their own acceptable loss of revenues due to downtime. Recently, more and more organizations are opting to use a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) model for their backup plan.

Test, Test, and Test Again

A solid backup plan, disaster recovery plan, and business continuity plan are essential for organizations in today’s data driven knowledge industries. But the best plan in the world will do you no good unless properly implemented and tested.

Validate to ensure the integrity of your backup data. Practice role-swapping regularly and change the role of the backup server to become the production server.

And remember, a disaster does not have to be a large scale natural disaster. I threw my iPhone in the washer and destroyed it myself through a simple mistake. Can you restore your data and continue going about your business in the all-too-likely event someone trips over a power cord?

Simon o’Sullivan is senior vice president and co-owner of Maxava, a provider of HA/DR software for enterprise environments running on the IBM i platform such as governments and multinational banking institutions.

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