The cloud is essential for small-business disaster recovery

For small businesses that could be destroyed if hit by a natural disaster, moving into “the cloud” is becoming essential for survival.

With the string of natural disasters devastating many areas of the world over the past few weeks, the need for virtual data storage and technology management has never been more clear.

Ivanka Menken, founder and CEO of the international IT service framework company The Art of Service, said that business continuity – maybe even business survival–is at risk when all technology is in one location.

One of the most vulnerable parts of the business is backup storage. Backup tapes and external hard drives can be destroyed in a disaster.

“Online backup storage in the cloud is considered to be the better option,” Menken said. “It gives you access to your data no matter where you are. All you need is a secure internet connection.”

According to a study from Price Waterhouse Coopers, 70 percent of small firms that experience a major data loss go out of business within a year. Despite the potentially devastating effects of data loss, too many small businesses don’t adequately protect themselves with a disaster recovery plan, Menken said.

The best cloud computing service providers offer a storage system, a file system and all applications necessary for a customer to have backup and disaster recovery.

Menken said that cloud-based disaster recovery is really about file and data storage.

Some people say that storage in the cloud is not safe, but according to Menken, that is somewhat irrelevant as up to 95 percent of any company’s data is not sensitive.

“Keep all the non-sensitive and non-super secret information in the cloud, and have a separate backup system for the data that you can’t keep in the cloud,” Menken said.

An important part of the process in selecting a cloud provider is determining where the company has its data centers. Is that area vulnerable to disaster? What kind of disaster recovery does the provider have in place?

“A number of cloud based backup providers are based in northern Texas, northern Virginia and northern California, regions that are fairly safe from natural disasters like floods and tornados,” Menken said.

When businesses are hit by disaster, one of the most important functions that must continue is financial administration, said Menken, including payroll, account receivables and more. Storing legal documents (articles of incorporation, legal agreements, insurance policies, etc.) in the cloud can also be a smart strategy, she said.

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.