Any kind of disaster is a debilitating blow to a business, whether it has five employees or 50,000. The new wrinkle in disaster prevention is that a business's digital capital now sits on some hard drive in an office, and the loss of that data can rank as one of the worst misfortunes that you can suffer.

If there was a fire in your business and you had assurances that everyone reached safety, what would be the one item you would grab before saving yourself?

People in the computer industry would probably say: the backup tape that records all your business dealings and transactions. That is because those records are truly unique to your business, whereas you can always manufacture or reorder HVACR products or continue to provide service. But can you reconstruct, completely and correctly, all your records and do so within an acceptable time frame? The inability to convey information to and about your customers can be the equivalent of a business suffering from amnesia.

Among experts, planning for a disaster is the first step. While that observation might smack of a cliché, it is true.

Here are some tested and proven techniques that will either help prevent a computer disaster from occurring or mitigate the impact of any calamity. Planning now for the worst could very well save your business later.

  • Conduct an audit

    This is probably the single most overlooked step in protecting your company data. While we always hear about audits in every phase of business, most of us ignore it even though our intellect tells us it makes sense. Don't presume that you know what kind of protection you have until a professional in-house or a consultant actually puts your operation through the paces. How do you know what you don't know? The only way you can know is to conduct an audit or run a drill for worst-case scenarios. You might be surprised, even shocked, at the results of a thorough audit. Done in-house, it'll keep your staff on their toes, and if you go for outside advice, these audits are often free or very low cost. Every medical doctor, when assessing someone's health, wants to have a baseline on a new patient. Why would you be less careful with your business's digital capital?

  • Back up securely

    This is the single most important step you can take to ensure that you don't lose information. But there are several ways to do this. Most businesses, in the past, backed up on two tapes (used on alternate days) that someone would take home. With two tapes, if you needed to restore the information, you had the protection that if even one of the tapes didn't work, you only lost one day of data. Depending on the size of your company and backup needs, you can now literally create a photo of the hard drive you need to back up so it completely copies the hard drive. That way you don't find out later that you had not backed up sections of the hard drive that contained valuable information. Norton's Ghost offers this “photograph” of your hard drive and the cost is quite reasonable.

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  • Check the backup

    What would you do if you found out that the person or system responsible for backing up didn't do so correctly? How do you REALLY KNOW that the person responsible for backup procedures is following instructions accurately or that the system responsible for it is operating properly. The human element is fallible, and yet many people ignore this. We all read stories abut trusted financial advisers who, in the end, did not perform the duties assigned to them. Their clients simply had faith in them. Don't just have faith that people responsible for backing up your company's data are doing so, no matter how much you like or trust them. I do not want to cast aspersions on anyone's reputation, but I do strongly suggest you verify this task with some degree of regularity. The same applies to an automatic system that is, allegedly, backing up.

  • Take it off-site

    An extra layer of protection is having an arrangement with a company that backs up your company's data off-site — not on your premises. The fees are often quite reasonable, and you have the assurance that your data is stored elsewhere without guessing whether someone “remembered” to create a backup. However, if you have data that could literally wipe out your business or cause a crucial blow should you lose it, you might want to get extreme even about an off-site backup plan. That means, first, choosing a backup server that is in a different geographic location. If there is flooding or a power failure in your region, for example, your backup company could suffer the same fate if they're located in the same area. Second, if you're deadly serious about the safety of your data, ask the company that provides the protection for an opportunity to visit their backup facilities. Has your vendor protected your data against earthquakes or tornadoes if they're in regions where these natural disasters occur? What provisions do they have for power failures? Are there backup generators that would prevent power failures? This suggestion might seem extreme, but one visit every two to five years might ensure that there really is a place that is housing your valuable information. Does this make sense? Ask yourself this simple question: Can you absorb the blow if they screw up? For smaller operations, www.mozy.com or www.carbonite.com are excellent and extremely low-cost sources of off-site backup.

  • Protecting against the unseen enemy

    It's probably unthinkable to consider that you're running a business without virus protection. Between foul-minded individuals, spam, downloads from music and trawling through social websites, who knows what might enter your network? Ensure that you have UPDATED virus protection all the time. This is a landscape that changes almost daily, and you need the best protection possible.

  • Set up a firewall

    Again, it might seem commonplace, but malicious hackers, whose only intention is to be disruptive and who are indifferent to the destruction they might induce, could enter your business's network and play havoc with data. A good IT professional can help.

  • Who is your IT person, and how good are they?

    If you handle your IT operation in-house, make sure the person responsible gets regular training. The computer industry changes with breathtaking speed. Would you recommend a contractor who did not get regular updates on HVACR equipment to a potential commercial or residential customer? A small investment in his or her education will save you time and money in the future. If you outsource your IT needs, ask these hard questions of your vendor:

    1. How long have you been in business?
    2. What's the background of the person who will provide the service?
    3. Will I be dealing with the same technician every time or will it be the one that is available at the moment?
    4. What is the size and nature of the companies you service?
    5. Can you provide three current references?
    6. Do you provide any type of user or technical training?
    7. How do you stay current with changes in the industry?
    8. How do you charge, and precisely what do I get for it?
    9. Do you conduct an audit for disaster planning and what is the charge?
    10. Do you act as a vendor for a specific hardware or software manufacturer? How does this affect my account?

    Computer disasters don't always strike the other person. Taking proactive, thoughtful steps today can prevent a computer disaster in the future that might play havoc with your company's profits and reputation.


    Anthony Mongeluzo is president of Pro Computer Service, which operates in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. An entrepreneur with various interests, he started his business in his parents' home. Today, he has more than 2,500 clients ranging from mom-and-pop companies to major corporations. Contact Anthony at anthony@helpmepcs.com, 856/596-4446 or visit www.procomputerservice.com. © 2009 Anthony W. Mongeluzo