About 30% of companies lack a formal disaster recovery strategy, and 64% of companies say their data backup and disaster recovery plans have significant vulnerabilities, according to a recent national survey sponsored by Imation Corp.

The lack of a sound DR strategy leaves those companies vulnerable to potential data loss as a result of natural disasters, viruses, employee sabotage, and terrorist threats, not to mention massive power outages like the one that blanketed the Northeastern U.S. and Canada last week.

The survey polled 202 IT directors and network storage managers on their perception of data backup, storage technologies, and disaster recovery practices.

According to the survey, 87% of companies have a formal data backup and storage plan implemented, but 32% of those companies reported not testing their plans on a regular basis, and 64% of the companies surveyed say they do not conduct external audits of their data storage and backup systems on a regular basis.

36% of the companies changed their disaster recovery practices and backup habits as a result of the events of 9/11. Some of the implemented changes include: regular testing procedures (56%), moving data off-site (43%), regular update procedures (42%), increased budgets for backup (39%), and a formal disaster recovery plan (26%).

"Companies are paying increased attention to backup, and more importantly, restore issues by implementing more vigorous disaster recovery and business continuity plans," says Steve Kenniston, technology analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group. "Yet many remain at risk due to unsafe and unreliable practices and procedures. A company can go out and buy the best storage equipment on the market, but if they don't implement proper backup and DR practices, or establish regular testing and update procedures, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to significant data loss."

When it comes to protecting a company's data, a data backup plan is not a disaster recovery plan, cautions Imation. A disaster recovery plan is often integrated into a data backup plan, but a disaster recovery plan specifically addresses how to restore data after a catastrophic event such as a fire, hurricane, or tornado.

A data backup plan encompasses issues such as the frequency of backups, what to back up, and how long to keep backed-up data, and it also includes an onsite and offsite storage strategy.

A disaster recovery plan includes the continuity of the business and the steps involved to fully restore its operational capabilities, Imation says. It takes into consideration the length of time a company can afford to be down, and designs a recovery plan to match. The most robust plan would allow for near instantaneous recall, which would encompass setting up a secondary data center complete with servers, networking capabilities, and tape and disk storage.

Most Companies Combine Tape and Disk

Every company polled in the survey agreed that the amount and type of data they are backing up is growing fast, and most said that removable data storage media, such as tape, plays an important role in their data backup and storage systems.

79% of the companies consider tape a crucial component of their strategy for long-term data retention and archiving, 85% view tape as an essential technology for disaster recovery, and 83% say tape serves an important role in supporting more robust record retention requirements such as the regulations enacted by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

61% percent of the respondents view tape and disk as complementary rather than competing technologies in a well-designed data backup and storage system.

"Tape is a proven technology that will continue to be the ideal solution for multiple point-in-time copies, off-site rotation, and long-term archival and disaster recovery," maintains Robert Abraham, analyst at Freeman Reports. "Disk storage is ideal for applications such as online, snapshots, or mirrored copies of data that cannot tolerate an extended downtime period. Thus, both disk and tape each have their place. As the survey confirms, the majority of end-users view disk-based systems as complementary to tape technologies, not replacements for tape."

A report on the survey's findings can be found at http://www.imation.com/dataprotectionsurvey.

The online survey of 202 network storage managers and IT directors in the U.S. was conducted in March and April. Survey respondents were selected from the Technology Advisory Board, a worldwide Internet panel of more than 25,000 scientists, engineers, information systems professionals, and information technology executives. The database allowed targeting of respondents with the job responsibilities required by the project.

Respondents were screened based on three criteria: direct responsibility for network or data center tape storage and administration; managing a team responsible for network or data center tape storage administration; or holding a senior management position (CIO, VP, director, or manager). The respondents included in the survey spanned a wide range of industries, according to Imation.

VERITAS Offers DR Tips

VERITAS offered its own disaster recovery tips in the wake of last week's widespread outages.

Personnel, data, the hardware and software needed to process it, and a place to go are essential for a quick recovery, VERITAS says.

A method of communication, such as satellite phones, that is independent from potentially unavailable phone lines or cellular services is a good choice for getting in touch with people, the company says. For employees who aren't directly involved in the data recovery process, a hotline can provide updates.

VERITAS recommends keeping multiple copies of the disaster recovery plan off site, such as in cars, homes, or briefcases, as well as keeping one copy with your off-site storage provider. More than 60% of companies make the mistake of keeping their disaster recovery plans in just one location — at the main data center — which could pose a problem if the main data center is unavailable.

Only one-third of organizations surveyed by Dynamic Markets have ever had to execute their plan, so expert assistance is necessary, VERITAS says. Get in touch with vendors and enlist their help. If you're recovering data from tape, your off-site disaster recovery storage provider should bring the tapes to a recovery site, and your backup software vendor can help recover the archived data.

Many companies subscribe to a secondary disaster recovery "hot site" for use with other subscribers in the event of a business interruption. The hot site will fill up fast in the event of a major event such as the recent power outage, so VERITAS recommends declaring a disaster as early as possible. Many organizations equip their own secondary data center for disaster recovery purposes, and can switch operations from the affected site to the secondary site without disruption to the business with the right equipment and help.

If the secondary site isn't available or functional, hotel ball rooms or conference centers equipped with high-bandwidth connections and air conditioning are good enough for starting a recovery when all else fails, suggests VERITAS.

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