Canadian companies know that an IT disaster is not an isolated event — it can have catastrophic consequences for an entire enterprise. Productivity is lost, customer relations damaged, and opportunities missed. Often, C-level executives have a false sense of security and assume that their systems are more resilient than they are. It is the IT managers that fret over nightmare scenarios. They know that they’ll be in the thick of it should all systems fail.

The cost of failure isn’t only the measurable business lost due to downtime, it’s also the opportunities that are missed and the damage to brand. Vas Srinivasan, vice-president of marketing for Sonasoft, a company that automates disk-to-disk backup recovery services, points out that this is true for businesses small and large. “Everywhere you look, database and IT administrators are constrained,” he says. “They need to do more with less, but they also need assurance and peace of mind.”

For a company like Sonasoft, which targets the small-medium business (SMB) market for backup/recovery and replication solutions for Exchange and SQL servers, market sensitivity to price is often an issue. “Our customers need something easy to implement (and) easy to use,” says Srinivasan, adding, “They may be concerned with price, but they also represent a sophisticated market.”

Sonasoft is responding to a technological shift: Records used to be kept on mainframes, but now much of it is SQL-based on the server. As well, data is increasingly backed up on disk, not on tape. Data Domain, which provides enterprise protection storage systems for disk backup and network-based disaster recovery, is helping large companies migrate from tape to disk. One of the most notable examples is their experience with Desjardins Financial Security (part of the Desjardins Group, the largest integrated cooperative financial group in Canada).

Desjardins was making two copies of tape each day, and full backups on weekends. Every night a second backup tape was taken off-site as a disaster recovery provision. Data growth was 40 per cent annually, but that represented primary storage capacity requirements, and backups were growing at a higher rate. Something had to be done.

Desjardins tested the water by first implementing a DD430 Data Domain appliance for their data centre in Levis, Que., near Quebec City. They used the DD430 for e-mail and file servers, and then bought a DD560, which provided higher capacity and throughput. This was used to migrate additional critical backup data. Desjardins is now implementing a third DD560 for off-site network-based recovery. Brian Biles, Data Domain’s co-founder and vice-president of product marketing, says it’s getting easier to bring people off tape. “We’ve been selling since 2003,” he says. “Tape was the library incumbent. Now, 60 per cent of the time we’re competing against tape, and 40 per cent against disk alternatives. This ratio will continue to shift.” It’s easy to see why. According to Desjardins, average restore times have gone from a few hours to a few minutes, enhancing business continuity. Everything is automated, thus saving time and reducing administrative costs, without disrupting the existing infrastructure. Stability is something Biles emphasizes. It doesn’t make sense to invest in business continuity, only to have the install disrupt daily activities. “There are ways to do this in parallel with tape infrastructure, or incrementally,” he says. “There are lots of different ways to blend it in.”

The result — a 17-to-1 compression ratio that’s getting higher, and the confidence to tell clients they have 24/7 service availability — comes off of what is, in effect, a fairly simple product that works with any packaged software.

Business continuity, however, is not only contingent on effective disaster recovery strategies and technologies. An IT crash is not the only thing that can disrupt a business. Ironically, advances in computing and telecommunications are enhancing business continuity for some old-fashioned industries facing age-old problems.

While many business continuity plans come out of audits and regulatory requirements, the planning and execution of an effective disaster recovery strategy usually comes from the school of hard knocks. The obvious examples — 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, power outages — are strong arguments for the broad, “horizontal” risks to business, but there are many examples that are industry-specific. And the people in those businesses are all too familiar with the risks.

Take railroads. David Lauger, Director of Business Development for Dantel, a California-based company that provides monitoring, control and surveillance products, makes the point that track needs to be monitored at all times. “This is expensive infrastructure. One glitch and an entire line goes down.” Dantel, with a strong presence in Canada, sells into telecommunications, utilities, construction and even plant nurseries.

“We provide maximum protection,” says Lauger, “and that includes alarm telemetry.” The company has developed “DREN” — Disaster Resistant Event Network — for rural areas without landlines. Power is solar, with communications through either RF or the cellular system. Sensory data can track video, allowing for businesses to secure remote locations.

“People need to protect their assets,” asserts Lauger. “Business continuity isn’t just about protecting IT systems; it means securing all the tools you need to conduct business. For example, the agricultural industry is now experiencing a huge amount of theft of copper piping.”

That’s worth considering, given that a recent Fusepoint/L