Disaster Recovery

March 9, 2009

Recently, there have been a couple articles on bMighty dealing with Disaster Recovery (Q&A with Kelly Lipp and Disaster Preparedness for Small and Midsize Companies).  Both hit on a very important theme, especially for Small Businesses.  When most companies, specifically technology related companies, develop their disaster recovery plan, or even just think about it, the first thing they include in the plan is data backup and recovery.  While this is a very important topic, as the first article points out, many companies, especially small companies, spend too much time and money on data backup and recovery and not enough thinking about business continuity in general.  Another common mistake both articles touch on is that, when creating a disaster recovery plan, most companies create the plan to protect against large scale natural disasters and forget to think about the much more likely small scale disasters.  As the second article points out, large scale natural disasters accounted for only 23% of business continuity/disaster recovery activiations reported by small businesses.

So, with those two articles in mind, what sort of things should a small business consider when creating a disaster recovery plan?  The first article gives some good pointers on this.  Some key things to consider.  First off, if you’ve spent the time to ensure your data gets backed up, be sure it is actually usable and ensure you have a place to use it or plans to aquire a place.  Having a secondary cold backup site can be expensive, but having a plan of equipment that will need to be purchased, potential locations it could be used, and the available funds to purchase the equipment.  Documentation on how the equipment needs to be setup and configured also needs to be included.

Another very important thing to keep in mind when planning for business continuity is every company’s most important asset, its employees.  Many times, in small businesses, there are a few key individuals that have a lot of knowledge.  Sometimes there are individuals that are the only person that knows how certain things work.  Planning for these people being unavailable is one of the most important things a small business can do.  Maybe you have on IT person, or a main IT person, that is the only one that knows how the network is setup and all the administrative passwords.  Maybe you have on developer that is the only one that really understands how your key applications work.  What would your business do if they were unavailable?  Maybe they have a family emergency and they are off for a month.  Maybe, God forbid, they have a heart attack or a car accident.

In many cases, mainly depending on geographic location, the scenarios described above are far more likely to affect your business than a large scale natural disaster.  Data is important, but without a few key people, sometimes that data is useless.  These sorts of scenarios are what you should really be considering when creating your disaster recovery plan.  If you do have these sort of key individuals, ensuring you take precautionary measures to minimize the impact to your business if the unfortunate does occur can mean the difference between a primarily emotional setback and a complete collapse of your business.


Dirty IT Jobs

July 29, 2008

As an IT Manager at a small business, as I’m sure many of you know, I have many responsibilities.  Some of them I really enjoy, some of them….not so much.  So, when I stumbled across this article about Dirty IT Jobs, I found it very interesting and could relate to quite a few of them.  I do think, the unfortunate thing here is that, in many cases (I have seen it many times myself) the more talented individuals are the ones that get assigned some of these dirty jobs.  This is mainly because, since they are so talented, they can figure it out quick and, many times, still manage to continue forward progress on not so dirty jobs.

Personally, I think the worst job is inheriting a poorly designed, poorly written, and not at all documented application.  I myself had one of these in a previous job at a manufacturing site.  They used a statistical process control application that interfaced with many gauges and accepted many different types of inputs.  A lot of these inputs required at least a small amount of custom “glue” code to take the output from the machine and put it in a format the application liked.  These little pieces of “glue” code were spread throughout the factory floor.  Not only were the pieces of “glue” code not documented, but not even all the locations the application was used at were documented.  I had one instance where maintenance had cut a long cable because they didn’t know what it was.  You guessed it, it was a serial cable from a gauge used for this application.  Being in a machine shop environment, this also was sometimes quite literally a dirty job as well, which just made it all the worse since we were excepted to wear slacks and nice shirts to work.

I’d be interested to hear of other dirty jobs out there or your experience with ones listed on this list.

Exit Strategies Dry Up

July 28, 2008

I found this article very interesting.  Basically, it’s pointing out some potential harm all the red-tape of running a publicly traded company could be doing.  Sarbanes-Oxley has created a lot more work for businesses and we’ve seen a lot of companies go private mostly because of the higher costs related to being public.  Not only have we seen current public companies go private, but we’ve also seen a slow down in new companies going public.  As the article points out… “The second quarter of 2008 marked the first time in 30 years that no venture-backed companies went public. Not a single one.”

So what does all this really mean?  When you start a business you usually want some sort of pay-off at the end.  You put in very long hours and worked really hard for potentially a lot of years, so you deserve it.  If you built your business using venture capital money, then you have even more forces pushing for a big return…potentially more than 50% ownership which is never a good position to be in.  Historically, there have been two main ways to get this pay off, either go public with an IPO or sell to another company.  The concern this article brings up is that the new laws are making the acquisition route (either by a current public company or private firm) much more appealing than the IPO route.  The most driven entrepreneurs have usually been pulled toward the IPO route so as to remain in control of the company, but that may not be the case anymore.

The article points out several “what if” scenarios that really bring the point home.  What if Bill Gates or Michael Dell had sold out early in their career to existing companies?  What if Google had been acquired by Yahoo! instead of going public?  It definitely gives us some food for thought.  Ultimately, I still think the most driven people will still opt to remain in control of their company.  We just may start seeing more people stay private and make private offerings instead of going public.  There may not be quite as big of a purse in that market, but when you weigh the total cost including the cost to meet all the SEC requirements, I think it will be much more appealing than it had been in the past.

Wiki for Business

July 23, 2008

I have long been a believer in the power of wikis at work in the business world.  bMighty had a great article recently on this with some brief case studies to show some of the benefits.  First of all, we’ll start with one great benefit a wiki has….it’s not e-mail.  The more I use email the more I realize how useless a tool it really is for anything except simple, quick, communication.  Any email that contains more than just a simple message contains knowledge that can be useful to useful to others.  A much better place for collaboration and sharing knowledge is in a tool like a wiki or maybe a slightly more sophisticated content management system.

My company currently uses a CMS for just such a thing (though we’re pushing the limits of the current architecture).  The support team shares current projects and issues so the rest of the team can see them.  The sales team shares some best practices and notes on how our product compares against some of the competition to help each other better directly compete with those competitors.  The IT department publishes policies and procedures as well as some simple help and how-to guides.  And our system is relatively new so I’m sure we’ll start using it in even more ways in the coming years.

Do any of you use wikis in your small business?  What kind of successes have you seen?  What sort of issues have you faced?

Seven Things IT Should be Doing

July 22, 2008

I came across a very interesting article in PC World about the Seven Things IT Should be Doing but Isn’t.  It points out some good places that IT managers should be focusing.  All in all, I think it makes some very good points.  I do think it appears to emphasize a few items of lesser importance more than a few of the more important items.

For example, the most important item on the list, which they have at number 7, is having a financial understanding of the business.  It is very important that an IT manager understand how the company you work for makes money and how IT can affect the bottom line.  It seemed to me that they spent more time talking about things like applying web 2.0 to internal applications.  I’m not sure how much I agree with that one.  Maybe making new sites have some web 2.0 functionality or doing something like setting up new internal sites like knowledge management sites or “semi” social networking sites for internal use, but I really don’t think it’s worth the money to re-write an existing application that is functioning perfectly well just to give it a web 2.0 feel.  If that fact is going to cause an employee to leave, they weren’t a very dedicated employee anyway and you’re probably better off without them.

Are you innovative enough?

July 21, 2008

I stumbled across an article this morning pointing out something brought up by Linus Torvalds.  I know many companies are always trying to be “innovative” and come up with the next big idea.  Linus, however, makes a very good point that this is really the wrong focus to have.  Anyone can come up with a good idea.  The hard work is delivering it and executing on the idea.  If you’ve attended any sort of entrepreneurship training classes you probably know this as they usually (and they should) stress the fact that it is not the idea or product that makes a company successful, it’s the ability to successfully and efficiently deliver that product to the customers.  Thousands of “innovative ideas” fail all the time.  So, if you’re out there searching around for an “innovative” idea…maybe you should spend more time focusing on the ability to execute and plan…innovative ideas are a dime a dozen.

Green IT for the Small Business

July 18, 2008

Green is definitely the big buzz word now, even in IT.  Companies are taking close looks at their data centers and trying to find ways to make them “greener”.  At a small business, it’s hard to find the time and resources to look into this, but taking a few steps could not only be a benefit for the environment, but also your bottom line.  Making your data center more green can save a decent amount on energy bills.  There were recently some good articles on bMighty about this.  The first one was just a high level short blurb, but the second I’m referring to is a good list of 5 simple questions you can look at to make your data center greener.

I think there are a couple things small business can do very easily to be green.  First off, as the one article suggests, mid 70’s is a perfectly acceptable temperature for your data center.  Even if you move from 68 to 72, that’s a good start and can save a decent amount of money.  If you’re just desiging your data center, maybe you can consider some alternative systems as well that can use external air when it’s cool enough instead of always running the chiller.

Another good thing a small business can do is give serious consideration to SaaS offerings where it makes sense.  When you go with a SaaS solution, you remove this burden from your data center and onto someone else’s.  That other person generally would have a decent size data center and can benefit from multi-tenant hosting to maximize their efficiency and make their data centers green.

Finally, another easy step for small business is to consider virtualization.  We all know that the more services you run from one computer the more critical that computer becomes and the more difficult it becomes to maintain.  Because of this, we will tend to run very few services on a single machine.  The issue with this is we now have 20 small servers running at less than 15% (often less than 10%) utilization.  This is obviously not very efficient and creates a lot of unnecessary heat that must be cooled.  The solution…get one decent size server running virtualization (like an VMWare ESEX server) and run all these small, underutilized machines in there.  This can greatly improve on energy use.

So there are three fairly simple things a small business can do to save some money and help the environment.  If you have any other ideas I’d like to hear them.