Computer Maintenance Essentials:
Disaster Recovery on the Cheap

By Beth Cohen

Last month my trusty private e-mail address that I had used for many
years stopped working with no explanation. Without warning the provider
had gone out of business leaving thousands of disgruntled customers.
Fortunately I already had several alternate addresses ready so I called
up my key clients and sent an email update to my address book. I was
fully functional and working in a day or two.

A couple of months ago I came back from lunch to find an ominous message
about Root file system not found on my screen ... the main hard drive on
my trusty laptop had died rather suddenly taking all my applications and
data files with it. I had a deadline for a client deliverable that
evening. Again, not to worry, I plugged in my external backup hard drive
into another computer on the network and worked from there. While I took
my laptop off to a local computer retailer to get repaired, I was able
to continue to work. I lost a couple of files and a day of work at most.

For me my computers are my company; without them I am essentially out of
business. Who has the budget for a full business contingency plan? Let
us look at inexpensive and simple ways to insure that your company will
continue to function if an IT disaster strikes.

The Problem

In the big corporations they frequently have entire departments devoted
to studying business continuity. They will write disaster recovery plans
and regularly test the contingency systems. For the small business it is
a bit tougher. We have become so dependent on our computers for our
businesses that we can no longer afford to rely on manual backup
processes and systems to carry us through an IT emergency.

The Solution

The first and most important item on your IT emergency list is to think
about the possibility that you will have computer systems and network
problems and your need to plan for them. Just by reading this article
you are taking your first steps in disaster recovery planning.

Fortunately, there are some fairly simple and easy things that if done
on a regular basis, can save your company when (not if, mind you) such
an event occurs. Implementing each of these simple items will not
prevent disasters from happening, but it will allow you to get back to
business that much sooner when they do.

Seven Computer Maintenance Essentials:

1) Establish a relationship with a reputable vendor. This is probably
your most important decision. The vendor should be easily accessible and
have the ability to respond quickly to solve your problems. I use a
small computer store a few blocks from me. They are not the cheapest
place around, but they repaired my hard drive and restored the backed up
files overnight without a fuss. My other alternative, the computer
manufacturer promised me two-week turnaround if I shipped them the
computer. No thank you.

2) Regular and automated backups. Disks have become so cheap that there
is not excuse why you should not have some kind of easily recoverable
backup. This item includes mirror or archive backup copies of your
essential files. I can not emphasis this enough. Several of my clients
have ignored this at their peril. Do not forget to test your file
recovery occasionally. You don't want to find out about your failing
backups when you are trying to restore a mission critical system.

3) Automated firewall and virus protection. Given the enormous amount of
viruses and malicious activity on the net, an updated firewall and virus
protection is essential. One client lost days of productivity because
they thought that servers were immune from virus attack and had no
protection installed.

4) Alternative Internet connectivity. Depending on the nature of your
business and your budget, your alternative could be a simple backup
dialup connection or a complete alternative service provider. I use a
low cost dialup company that allows me to purchase prepaid access as I
need it, but a local small college recently signed with a wireless
backup provider when their main ISP went bankrupt and they were forced
to scramble for continued connectivity.

5) Alternative email addresses and backup websites. For most businesses
not having e-mail access can spell disaster. I have several addresses
through a few providers. I also set my pop account to keep old mail for
a week on the server. That means that if necessary I can access my mail
from the local public library. I also keep copies of my website in a
number of places so that if my main site is down, I can still send my
clients to one of the alternatives.

6) Good records of your installed applications. It is easy to forget how
many applications you have installed on your system. When I restored my
accounting package, I had to reinstall the software certificate and
serial number. It took me a while to realize that I had written it
conveniently on the software CD itself. Now all my application software
registration information is in a file that I print out and keep in a
safe and memorable place.

7) Outsource external facing services to a supported data center
company. With a variety of vendors and services to choose from, all for
a reasonable price, why should you be tying up your company bandwidth
and potentially opening yourself to malicious attack by hosting your own
website or FTP server? This is one case that outsourcing is the truly
best option.


So next time, your critical computer system or your Internet
connectivity goes down, just call your trusted computer repair vendor
(phone number conveniently placed near your computer) or your
alternative provider, switch to your pre-planned backup and continue to
work. No heart attack and no panic. Think of the peace of mind and happy
customers that all your contingency planning bought you.