A new Symantec study of small and midsized business disaster recovery preparedness reveals a dramatic disconnect between DR beliefs and DR realities. Namely, most businesses are convinced they're prepared to recover from a disaster. Wrong.

Keith Ferrell, Contributor

September 30, 2009

4 Min Read

A new Symantec study of small and midsized business disaster recovery preparedness reveals a dramatic disconnect between DR beliefs and DR realities. Namely, most businesses are convinced they're prepared to recover from a disaster. Wrong.Symantec's just-released study of more than 1,600 small and midsized businesses -- 499 employees or fewer; with 35% of respondents in the 10-99 employees range) found that when it comes to disaster recovery (DR) planning, confidence levels are high.

Too high.

And too complacent.

82% reported being satisfied with their DR plan. 84% were confident that their computer technology is protected.

The confidence extends beyond the firewall:

67% of the businesses felt their customers would "wait patiently" until systems were replaced and up and running again.

Really? Really?

That one is, for me, the most startling finding in the survey. Turn the question around and ask yourself:

Would your business "wait patiently" if a key vendor was knocked offline for an unspecified (implied, I believe by the "patience") amount of time?

Didn't think so.

Yet only a third (34$) of Symantec's DR survey respondents admitted that in the event of a disaster their customers would start looking elsewhere.

While Symantec asked its respondents whether their business is located in likely natural disaster zone (regions prone to tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes) -- and 76% were -- the security company also included power outages and hacker intrusions among the disaster menu.

Put those together with natural disasters and, according to Symantec, "The average SMB experienced three outages within the past 12 months."

Yet, pressed for specific disaster prep for outages, 47% of the respondents admitted to being unprepared. In other words:

The average SMB does not have a plan for dealing with disastrous disruption. And even those who are prepared are only sort of prepared, even at the most basic levels:

The average SMB backs up only 60% of company and customer data.

Only 23% of SMBs back up daily.

Here's another hold-onto-your-hat finding:

40% of SMBs back up no more frequently than once a month -- some far less frequently than that.

Incomplete and irregular backups, insufficient planning, overconfidence in customer patience, denial about the likelihood of having to recover from a disaster -- sound familiar?

Odds are some of it (at least!) may sound like your company or one of your vendors.

When bMighty looked deeply at SMB DR and Business Continuity planning a while back, we found many of the same problems.

That the problems -- and the enormous risks that accompany them -- persist, as Symantec's findings show they do, should give all of us pause. Whatever the likelihood of a natural disaster, the threat environment grows more severe daily, and with it the risk that your business will experience a disruption.

Symantec's recommendations include: Careful Determination Of Your Business's DR Needs: What data do you and your customers have to have in order to get the business running again? Are there compliance requirements for specific data areas that must be met?

Educate Employees On DR and Engage Trusted Advisors: Make sure the people -- internal and external -- responsible for implementing your DR plan know what they're doing -- and what they'll need to do it.

I'd add to that one the recommendation that you review your key vendors -- and especially your security, back and DR vendors (if any) for their DR plans and competencies.

Automate Where Possible: Automating the backup process both helps insure that it gets done and reduces costs.

I'd add that you need to take the time to review the automated backups regularly. Overconfidence in automated processes can be as devastating as overconfidence in anything else. And can bite your bsuiness just as hard.

Test Annually: Symantec recommends rigorous yearly tests insure that critical data is not only backed up but is also fully recoverable.

Here's where I take a bit of issue with Symantec's recommends. Annual testing doesn't strike me as sufficient, particularly in an environment where, as Symantec itself points out, the average business experiences three outages a year.

One the one hand, that finding is a pretty good indicator that the average business is forced to test its DR abilities every four months or so.

On the other hand, as Symantec notes, actual disaster recovery is no time to find out whether or not your plans work. This is a good and thorough report, well worth reading, and well worth passing along to everyone involved in your DR process.

The complete Symantec SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey can be read here.

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