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Prevent a tech disaster by preparing for the worst

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Friday, August 01, 2008

When an explosion last June knocked out 9,000 servers at The Planet, a Texas data center, 7,500 customers were affected. Though this level of disruption is rare, it provides a sobering reminder of how reliant businesses are on high tech, and if that technology suddenly fails how fast it can sink a business.

Prevention and disaster planning are key, say experts, to surviving a crash and keeping costs down over the long haul.

Businesses “can lose so much money when their servers go down,” says Gordon Ruby of Portland-based River City Technical Services. Websites that can’t be accessed can often immediately lose sales or advertising revenue, or billing or scheduling data. And productivity suffers. “You don’t want employees twiddling their thumbs,” says Ruby.

Smaller businesses likely don’t have IT experts on staff and a mid-size company might have a part-timer, but what if the circuitry goes haywire while they’re on vacation?

Whether it’s websites or hard drives holding vital business information, David Lechnyr of Oregon Tech Support in Eugene says businesses must prepare for a total technology meltdown  — and many don’t. When Lechnyr gets a call from frantic businesses, he often hears the same words: “Wow, I never realized how dependent we are.”

It’s what Geoff Birkemeier of Birkemeier Consulting in Tigard calls the Catch-22 of office technology management: If everything is working fine, many wonder why they are paying somebody to maintain it.

“People don’t realize they need it, until they need it,” he says.

Lechnyr says businesses can be out of operation for up to five days while the problem is fixed, and spend up to $10,000 in fees. It can cost thousands for emergency data-recovery services, too.

If you want to avoid technology holding your business hostage, start planning in advance:

1. Be choosey before hiring an IT consultant. Check references and make clear the needs of the business.

2. Spend a little extra on top-notch equipment. It’s less likely to crash.

3. Keep spare hardware nearby. Sometimes gear needs to be ordered, which can take weeks.

4. Always save data in several places. Consider services that automatically save information off-site.

5. Update your equipment and have it tested regularly.                   


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