I shared some tips on ensuring business continuity for the SMB last week. Today, I shall wrap up on the other two areas I mentioned in The Importance of Business Continuity, such as the ability of a company to access their CMS or ERP systems, and making sure that the flow of incoming e-mail remains uninterrupted.
Access to Computer Systems
When disaster strikes, one crucial component for the SMB is how fast it can restore access to various computer systems, be it the software used by the accounts department, portals hosted on the company intranet or various CMS/ERP systems.
Now, there are many ways to ensure business continuity on this front, though an "enterprise" solution typically involves tinkering with expensive mirroring software or complex multi-location failover hardware. For the SMB, though, I would advocate a simpler solution: making use of virtual machines (VM) to ensure that your business recovers quickly from a disaster.
Ruthlessly building your IT infrastructure around VMs will allow you to literally back up all your systems onto a few hard disks. Whenever possible, organize the VMs based on roles or departments. By adopting this strategy, you should be able to selectively restore the most crucial services in a very short amount of time simply by acquiring some redundant hardware and copying the appropriate VM images over.
In addition, installing software applications on virtual machines is a quick and easy method to circumvent some vendors who refuse to furnish any installation media so that they can charge for an on-site installation.
One particular reservation of running applications on a virtual machine is usually related to concerns over degraded performance. However, this is an area that an SMB actually has less to be concerned about; the availability of more powerful machines and copious RAM means that the applications required for an SMB are unlikely to hit a bottleneck on this front.
Access to E-Mails
There is no doubt that e-mail is very much a part and parcel of businesses by now, empowering SMBs to connect with vendors and customers across disparate time zones. Its sheer importance is the reason I would not advise putting the crucial e-mail server in a server room or server closet. Instead, I advocate paying the slightly higher cost of hosting an e-mail server in a data center with its various redundancies. This would ensure that no e-mails would be lost even if the Internet connectivity is severed by natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes, or the office gutted by acts of mischief such as arson.
An alternative suggestion would be to host your e-mail with a provider such as Google's Mail for Organizations which, despite some minor hiccups, does maintain a very impressive uptime. However, this will not work if you require the features of a messaging platform such as Microsoft's Exchange.