Asian SMBs still unprepared for disaster recovery

Amount of information collected and stored by companies increasing exponentially, but most Asian small and midsize firms are unable to identify critical data, say industry watchers.

From crucial customer data to information on various compliance and regulatory policies, the amount of data small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have to collate and track are rising. Unfortunately, not many of these enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region are able to utilize available data management tools to better protect their business.

According to Symantec's 2009 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey for Asia-Pacific and Japan, the average SMB faced three outages in the past year, and yet over one-third of respondents did not have a disaster recovery (DR) plan to deal with network failures. SMBs that did back up their data only did so for 60 percent of their corporate and customer information.

Quoting figures from IDC, Ronnie Ng, manager of systems engineering at Symantec Singapore, said information growth is expected to increase 400 percent over the next four years, but annual IT budgets will only expand by 10 percent to 20 percent. As such, IT managers and CIOs will face even more pressure to manage and gain better insights from the data available, Ng said in an e-mail.

In turn, Tirthankar Sen, channel research director for Springboard Research noted that this is causing companies to lose business and money because they are unable to retrieve crucial data in a timely fashion.

"I think if you asked every SMB, they would feel they are losing some type of business due to the inability to retrieve data, information and collaborative details at the right time. I think everyone would feel they could improve in this area," Sen told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

Ng concurred, noting that failure in information flow can cause "crippling and irreparable damage" for businesses, particularly SMBs.

"Backing up company data is undoubtedly important, but backing up without retrieval is like forgetting your PIN at the bank--one without the other is pointless," he said.

However, some industry players think the situation is slowly improving.

Bill Taylor-Mountford, Asia-Pacific president of DR and storage management company, Acronis, pointed to post-recession Asia as a key region leading economic recovery. He added that SMBs in this region are "exploring investing on their infrastructure" to better support their business operations and expansion.

Also, technologies such as virtualization and software de-duplication, are becoming increasing affordable and widely deployed, Taylor-Mountford said in an e-mail.

"With these favorable factors in play, we hope to see more Asian SMBs addressing their storage-related challenges and protecting their digital assets and data from outages and disasters," he said.

Springboard's Sen also adviced SMBs to look at cloud computing alternatives provided by companies such as EMC and Amazon, to equip themselves with backup capabilities. He said these offerings can be a "good fit" for smaller-sized enterprises as they are "inexpensive, do not typically need much IT skills to run and provide a constant backup of data".

He did note, though, that many of these tools are currently catered either for individuals or for larger organizations, and not specifically for SMBs.

5 data tips for SMBs
In addition, Symantec's Ng suggests five practical steps SMBs should adopt to ensure their critical data remains unscathed in a natural disaster or network failure.

1. Be prepared for the worst: SMBs need to have a proper business continuity plan that revolves around maintaining a secure storage, backup and recovery environment, in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

2. Discover your data: Identify where your most sensitive data is stored, sent or used, and then protect it using an enforced unified data protection plan.

3. Eliminate duplicate data: SMBs that implement an integrated de-duplication and archiving tool can realize 20 percent to 40 percent savings in storage costs. This will also result in easy retrieval of critical data.

4. Consider online storage: Storing information online at an offsite location for disaster recovery or long-term storage enables critical data to remain protected and recoverable, and is also a cost-saving measure.

5. Look for all-in-one tools: With a small IT staff and budget, such products will benefit in terms of easy deployment and maintenance, and yet keep critical information secure.