Better Safe Than Sorry
The devils of data destruction--from the unforgiving power of 2005's Hurricane Katrina to the insidious glitches that recently downed Salesforce.com's systems--are forcing companies to think harder about backing data up and about contingency plans.
Two days before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans last year, Rick Komendera, COO of Richard Gray's Power Company, a New Orleans firm that provides power line conditioners, backed up the company's databases on his zip drive. Rick then packed the drive and left for the Richard Gray's manufacturing facility in Chicago. During the crisis, the facility acted as a temporary staging area for employees. When the staff was all in the same room, workers used QuickBooks to access the company's data, but when forced to disperse and stay in various other cities, the staff could no longer retrieve the data. Komendera selected NetSuite for employees to be able to access data online.
"NetSuite usually takes over a month to implement. They had us up in three days," Komendera says. "It was completely accessible to everybody. It was the first time we could coordinate on a company level again. All told, we only missed two days of shipments. It was one of the fundamental reasons why we're still in business today."
What happens, though, when the CRM vendor experiences a service disruption? Salesforce.com suffered an outage of its on-demand services in December 2005 because of an error in the database cluster on one of the company's four global nodes. Users experienced intermittent access to critical customer data throughout the day. There was another outage in January, owing to servers having failed.
Many companies are relying on their on-demand vendors for that backup, but responsibility must go to both the vendor and the client company, according to Gary Chen, small and medium business strategies analyst for Yankee Group. When those vendors lose the ability to provide service, both the providers and users can take steps to ensure that damage is kept to a minimum. If the problem is temporary, as it was for Salesforce.com, the best measure the vendor can take is to notify customers, according to Chen. If the damage is permanent, vendors should offer their customers the ability to download their data to keep a copy onsite. Customers also should consider the backup measures a vendor has in place when shopping for an on-demand solution.
"With on-demand vendors, it's about creating multiple levels of protection," Chen says. "Many vendors are beefing up their infrastructure by dividing their networks between east and west coast centers. And, you can do a system restore to a specific minute of a day. That reduces the time between backups and creates a much more robust failure plan. It also speeds up the business recovery process. Most important, just plan ahead."