S'pore SMBs see disaster recovery plans as luxury

Local small and midsize firms diligent in data backup but still need to do more to safeguard business and customer data, survey finds.

SINGAPORE--Local small and midsize businesses (SMBs) pay more attention to saving critical business and customer data than their peers in other Asian countries, but still need to do more to protect their critical corporate data, a Symantec survey finds.

Some 86 percent of SMBs here backed up at least 40 percent of their corporate and customer information, just above the Asia-Pacific, including Japan, regional average of 85 percent. The survey polled 731 respondents across the region, including 73 from Singapore--22 of which were customers of SMBs--with the aim to gauge SMBs' disaster preparedness. Small companies in the study had a headcount of between 10 and 99 employees, while midsize businesses ranged from 100 to 499 employees.

Findings for the Asia-Pacific region were published in September, though statistics for Singapore were officially released only today.

Singapore SMBs also led in their e-mail contingency efforts, where more respondents in the country said they back up e-mail data than their counterparts in Southeast Asia--comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, said Alex Ong, Symantec's Singapore sales director of commercial account. In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Ong noted that SMBs in the country also ranked second in terms of backing up employees' personal files, and third for customer data.

Across the region, SMBs said they were confident of their disaster preparedness, where 87 percent indicated they were satisfied with their disaster recovery (DR) plans. However, this indicated a level of "misplaced optimism" as 36 percent of respondents did not have a formal DR plan in place, Ong said, noting that the mismatch was also evident in the survey's global findings.

He added that this perception is especially risky, with Singapore SMBs experiencing an average of three system outages in the past year. Viruses and hackers, at 82 percent, were the most common cause of such system failures, while unintentional errors or data deletion by employees were the second most common cause of system crash, at 80 percent.

Ong also noted that natural disasters such as floods, fires or pandemics such as the H1N1 flu virus, which prevent staff from getting to the office "to reboot the system when it crashes", accounted for 69 percent of outages among SMBs here.

Asked how much data would be lost if their office were destroyed in a fire, 48 percent of respondents in Singapore said they would lose at least 40 percent of their corporate data.

Impact on customer relationship
Despite the possibilities of outages, information loss and potential lengthy business downtime, some SMBs in Singapore still regard DR planning as a luxury, noted Ong. In the survey, 6 percent of SMBs did not have or had no plans to implement a DR fallback option. Of these respondents, 67 percent said their computer systems were not critical or an important priority to their business, he said.

However, customers of SMBs in Singapore that were polled for the survey revealed the impact of such downtimes on their relationship with the SMBs. Some 27 percent said they would start evaluating other options should their SMB partner suffer a system downtime, and these including possibly switching to the SMB's competitors, Ong said.

In addition, 59 percent of SMBs assumed customers would wait patiently for their system to be restored, but only 36 percent of customers said they would be willing to do so.

"It's like when we go online these days, if we can't find the information we want now, we simply go to another Web site to look for it," said Ronnie Ng, systems engineering manager for Symantec Singapore and Indonesia. "For customers today, if they think you aren't providing the service level they expect, they will just go somewhere else."

In conjunction with the release of the survey findings, Symantec unveiled its new Backup Exec System Recovery 2010. This data and system backup and recovery software for SMBs aims to help businesses better manage and secure their business data, said Ong.

This program allows companies to take "point-in-time snapshots" of desktop or server state, which they can then revert to in the event of outages, said Ng. He cautioned though that unless "companies automate and commit to backing up daily", their data remains at risk.

The software also links up with Symantec's real-time "Threatcon" system, which tracks viruses, malwares and other security bugs worldwide. "If the system detects a rise in our Threatcon [risk] level, the Backup Exec System Recovery proactively protects SMBs by doing an automatic system backup," said Ng.

The new offering now also supports both Windows and Linux platforms, in recognition of the "increasing importance of open source" in the security arena, he said.