5 DR Tips for SMEs Running IBMi

Like large corporations, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are becoming more and more reliant on critical data stored on their servers. Fewer resources and the greater impact of interruptions put SMBs at higher risk, and over-reliance on tape backups can lead to a weaker disaster recovery plan.

While tape backup on Power Systems servers running IBM® i can provide a small level of protection, this can leave SMBs open to data and time loss on a scale that they cannot afford. The key to minimising losses is to put in place a wide-ranging disaster recovery plan with an up-to-date and easily accessible backup of your data. These pointers combined with MIMIX® DR from Vision Solutions® can help to protect your business against downtime and data loss.

Data Dependency

Regardless of the size of your business, you depend on your data for its day-to-day operations and disasters, such as floods and fires, can show just how vulnerable electronic data can be. However, studies have shown that SMBs do not do enough to protect themselves against data loss and that SMB management is often not focussed on so-called ‘hypothetical disaster scenarios.’

As well as changes in the risks to SMBs, the way they do business has also changed. The increased amount of critical data produced every day, as well as the need to access this data at all times, has increased the impact of lost data. In addition, customers are more likely to expect normal service to resume quickly after a disruption.
Nowadays, the task of protecting data poses a real risk to businesses of any size, but SMBs are most at risk as they often do not have the money or staff for effective disaster recovery. In many cases there is no recovery plan, or their recovery site is too close to the primary site to provide protection in caste of a disaster. Indeed for many SBMs a recovery site is simply non-existent. Many SMBs store all of the businesses critical data on one server, and in the event of the server going down most offices will face costly consequences if the server is not fully restored fast enough. Small and medium-sized businesses in regulated industries must also follow the same data availability and protection guidelines as larger businesses, without the budget necessary to meet the requirements.

Is Tape Backup Sufficient?

Since the 1970s, magnetic tape has been a popular choice for data storage, allowing businesses to store large amounts of information for a low cost. As tape cartridges are easily portable, they can be transported and stored in a separate location. Storing critical data off-site is a key requirement of most corporate accountability legislation, and thus tape has historically proven useful in compliance with these regulations.
While tape is still a useful technology, it does have its failings, particularly with regard to modern business datacentre requirements for availability. Businesses using magnetic tape for their backups often have to spend precious time collecting tapes from the recovery site and locating a server on which to restore the data

Another notable weakness of using tape to backup your data is that you can only restore it to the point of the last backup, which is likely not completely up to date and thus any data created since this backup will be lost. If the most recent backup is unavailable then businesses can stand to lose even more data as they are forced to use the next most recent copy.

Planning to Succeed?

Whilst it is vital to be optimistic when growing a small enterprise it is still vital to remain prepared in the case of any potential disasters. Small businesses are incredibly important to the economy and in fact make up the vast majority of businesses with employees. However, they are often affected the most by disasters as they are much more likely to be insufficiently prepared. While the importance of preparing your business for an emergency is obvious, many businesses still forgo the proper steps due to budget and time restrictions. In many cases SMBs do not reopen after significant business outages and prior planning and preparation can be vital in ensuring your business gets back to work after a disaster.

Some points that SMBs should be aware of include:
– Is the business prepared to move location temporarily?
– Are essential business records copied and accessible (usually stored in a separate location at least 50 miles away)
– Do we have access to vital business applications? (emergency payroll, accounting, access to suppliers and resources)
– How much data would the business lose? (That has been created since the last backup)
– How quickly can we return to business afterwards?
– How long would we be unavailable to connect with customers?

A Typical Risk Scenario

Tuesday 4 p.m. The server crashes the office. Employees are unable to access e-mail, the client database, appointment calendar, research data or project directories. In a best-case scenario, by Tuesday evening the reseller arrives with parts necessary to repair the server and restores the new server from the Monday night tape backup. By Wednesday morning, users can resume work – but all of Tuesday’s data and hours of productivity have been lost. A more likely scenario is that the reseller doesn’t have all of the parts in stock, or they don’t have a resource available to install them. They call for replacement parts, but they don’t arrive until Wednesday.

Wednesday afternoon, the reseller repairs the server and begins the restoration process from the Monday night tape backup. On Thursday morning, users can resume work but the most recent data they can access is from Monday night. Over a day of productivity and data are lost. The worst-case scenario is that the reseller doesn’t have all of the parts in stock. They call for replacement parts, but they don’t arrive until Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon, the reseller repairs the server and tries to restore from the Monday night backup, but the Monday night backup is bad, so they have to restore from Sunday night’s backup. By Thursday morning, users can resume access to the server applications, but they can’t access data more recent than last weekend.

What can an SMB do to reduce the impact of lost data and server downtime? These five tips can help small and medium sized businesses protect their data in an effective manner and speed up recovery from any downtime.

Five Tips for Protecting Business Critical Data

One – People, Policies and Priorities First

Ensure that you have the right people, policies and procedures set up before you focus on your strategy from a technological point of view. Assign an individual to be in charge of data protection, tasked with directing any testing and training, investigating potential options and documenting the process.

The data protection owner should create a group capable of assessing which information is the most important to the business. The group should be comprised of members who can guarantee that the most critical data is protected. In many small businesses, this may just consist of the owner or executive staff. In a medium sized business it is appropriate to select the managers of each of the business’ functions. The data protection owner should also check for any regulations which apply to the business’ data protection policy. The group should then identify the critical applications. For most SMBs this will be those applications that will rapidly begin to cost the company money if they remain unusable. By ensuring that you protect vital applications such as e-mail systems, customer databases and e-commerce sites, your data protection goals will be far easier to attain.

Two – Get your Data out of the Building

It is of vital importance that your businesses data is stored out of the building in the case of a disaster, preferably far enough away that it remains unaffected by large-scale disasters that may damage your primary site. It is important that you consider the most likely threats to your business and locate your off-site backup accordingly. For example, if local power outages are the most likely threat to your data, consider storing the data far enough away that it is on a different power grid so it will remain operable in the event of a power failure.

Think creatively about how you can cost-effectively protect the data remotely. If your company has multiple sites, perhaps you could send your data to another geographically distant site. Perhaps you could co-locate a backup server at the site of a business partner. If you have neither a remote location nor a second server, utilising a managed services or cloud hosted offering is a cost-effective option. Numerous businesses offer cloud hosting for IBM i environments, charging a set fee for the storage and processing power you need each month. Using a managed service avoids the capital expense of a second system, and it reduces the administrative burden on your staff by outsourcing the management to your hosting/cloud provider.

Consider the options available to remotely protect your data in a cost-effective manner. If your business has other sites in geographically distant locations, consider sending your data there. If this is not possible, managed services or cloud hosting can be used to offer a cost effective alternative. Many businesses offer cloud hosting for IBM i environments at a set price, avoiding the expense of a second system and reducing the burden on your company by outsourcing the management to them.

Three – Calculate the Costs of Downtime

For employees to be able to grasp the scale of the problem it may be necessary to estimate potential downtime costs in the event of a disaster. The following method provides a simple way to estimate the average cost per hour of downtime.

Cost Per Occurrence = (To + Td) x (Hr + Lr)
To = Time / Length of Outage
Td = Time Delta to Data Backup (How long since the last backup?)
Hr = Hourly Rate of Personnel (Calculate by monthly expenditure per department divided by the number of work hours.)
Lr = Lost Revenue per Hour (Applies if the department generates profit. A good rule is to look at profitability over three months and dividing by the number of work hours.)

Next, you should set recovery aims for your applications. A Recovery Time Objective (RTO) refers to how quickly you need to get the system in question back up and running and in most cases will depend on the system. For example it may be suitable to get an e-mail system running again by the next business day, but this may not be suitable for other more essential systems. A Recovery Point Objective (RPO) should also be set. This details how much data can you afford to lose since the last backup and is again dependent upon the system in question. Once you have these you can estimate the cost of achieving your RTO and RPO for each application.

Finally, you must communicate to the senior management the downtime cost estimates and the RPO and RTO goals to ensure they understand and are in agreement with them. Once everyone has agreed to this it will be easier to set out a data protection strategy and budget as the potential downtime costs will justify the need for a suitable data protection budget.

Four – Consider Options in Other than Tape

Once you have established RTOs and RPOs for your applications and your budget you will be able to choose an appropriate data protection solution. As in the case of many SBMs, it is likely that you will come to the conclusion that tape backups are not suitable to achieve your objectives for more critical applications. This can be due to the length of time between tape backups, the likelihood of tape backups failing, or the long time it takes to recover data from a tape backup.

For SMBs whose applications run at multiple locations, the quality of on-site tape backups can also become problematic. The majority of businesses do not have the necessary technical experts available to maintain the tapes and ensure they are backing up the data correctly. In addition, they will be unavailable to conduct a recovery should it be needed.

SMBs face a problem: tape backup systems are cost-effective and often essential for archival purposes but do not allow the businesses to achieve the RPO and RTO for their critical applications. Hardware storage mirroring uses remote copy technology to provide sector-based replication between two sites. This provides good RPO when used together with IBM i switchable IASP and local journaling but can often be too expensive for SMBs to purchase and manage. In addition it is often unsuitable for backing up remote locations which many not the necessary bandwidth capabilities.

Software replication solutions also provide strong RPO for critical applications without the attached cost and complexity of hardware mirroring as they only replicate changed data. In comparison with hardware mirroring solutions they require much lower bandwidth making them more suited to remote locations. They also provide application and server failover to a hot backup server which gives good RTO allowing users to start working much more quickly after a failure than tapes would allow.

Tip Five – Ensure you Really Can Restore

It is vital that you ensure to have a plan for restoring your critical applications fast – either locally or elsewhere. Do you have the ability to access all of the components you need for recovery quickly? What steps do you have to take to restore a server in the event of failure? Is there a plan for moving the business’ operations and staff to another location?

MIMIX DR maintains a fully function server backup, allowing you to failover to that server without the usual recovery steps. Once your main server has been restored, you can then recover all of the data and applications without data loss.

MIMIX DR – The Solution for SMBs

MIMIX DR is an effective way for SMBs to reap the benefits of software-based replication. It is a complete, entry-level solution aimed at providing disaster recovery through high quality MIMIX technology.

Continuous Protection
The key to MIMIX DR is its use of real-time replication. Using IBM I’s remote journaling capabilities, MIMIX DR replicates your entire environment to a backup system – including files, data areas, data queues, IFS, programs, user profiles, device configurations, spool files, triggers and constraints. As MIMIX DR only replicates any changes that are made, bandwidth usage is kept to a minimum, allowing the backup server to be stored on or off-site or in the cloud. MIMIX DR gives users the benefits of a fully-functional backup server which can take over with no up-front recovery steps and all data and applications intact up to the point of failure.

Auditing for confident recovery
When using MIMIX DR you can be firmly confident in your recoverability with comprehensive audits comparing your current database with the stored backup. Eight regularly scheduled audits of the backup, as well as monitoring it for any end-user changes, will provide strong coverage. Automatic self-healing technology will repair any data that has not been correctly synced once it is discovered. With MIMIX DR you can have complete reliance on the quality of your backup data should any disaster or failure occur.

Ease of use
MIMIX DR comes with a browser-based GUI in the form of the Vision Solutions Portal (VSP). This is accessible from any browser and can be used to check and manage the status of your MIMIX DR environment from anywhere. Easy to use icons allow simple checking of status, while e-mail alerts of conditions requiring your attention are provided to allow you leave it unattended while you are away. Overall, the ease of use provided by MIMIX DR allows you to manage your environment with minimal time and effort.

For newly implemented technology to be of value to an SMB it must prove its value over the course of its lifecycle and begin to do this quickly. In a direct sense MIMIX DR provides quick, reliable ROI by immediately reducing the potential costs of server downtime and data loss. In addition, when hosted by a managed service or on the Cloud it enables a move to real-time replication without the associated cost of a second server.

Based on technology found in MIMIX Availability, Vision Solutions’ world class IBM i high availability solution used by thousands of companies, MIMIX DR provides a growth path to MIMIX Availability as your business’ HA/DR needs grow.

An Alternate Recovery Scenario with MIMIX DR

Now, with MIMIX DR installed on both their production server and on a backup server located elsewhere, the Smith and Johnson law office has a better experience than even the best-case scenario described above.

Tuesday 4 p.m. The server crashes at Smith and Johnson law office. Staff can’t access the client database, appointment calendar, court schedule, research data or project directories. Within an hour or two, the time it takes to manually start the business application on the backup server, production operations can be up and running, with all of the data current up to Tuesday at 4 p.m., the very moment of the production server crash. Users can access all of their applications. On Tuesday evening, the reseller or integrator arrives with parts necessary to repair the original production server.

Afterward, technicians can schedule a time to manually resynchronise the production with the backup server, with all of the data generated since Tuesday intact and with only minor impact to the business. Even in the worst-case scenario where the reseller has to order parts, users can continue to work on the backup server until the production server is restored.

To Sum Up

Like major corporations, small and midsize businesses are increasingly reliant on the critical data stored on their servers. However, limited resources and vulnerability to interruptions put small and midsize businesses at higher risk. In the past, small and midsize businesses could only try to cope with this greater level of risk, but no longer. Relying on tape backup for your business server disaster recovery strategy can put your hard-earned success at risk, and statistics show that a large percentage of small businesses who encounter a disaster are not able to reopen. While tape backup for SMBs running IBM i provides a small measure of protection, periodic tape backup can leave you vulnerable to massive amounts of lost data and time in a disastrous event. The key to getting back on track quickly is a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, including fast access to an up-to-the-minute copy of your data. MIMIX DR provides a complete disaster protection and recovery solution at a favourable price for small businesses.

While tape backups can provide a measure of protection, the periodic nature of tape backups can leave SMBs vulnerable to huge amounts of lost data between backups. To get back on track quickly it is vital to have a comprehensive recovery plan, including an up-to-date and easily accessed copy of your data and applications. MIMIX DR provides a complete, cost effective disaster protection and recovery solution for SMBs.

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