Natural disasters have certainly made headlines over the past years. The fallout is always extreme: Among the many lives lost and homes crushed, businesses, too, lay in ruins. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, 60 percent of Mississippi’s small businesses closed, according to the director of the Mississippi Small Business Development Center. But “disasters” for small to mid-sized businesses extend well beyond freak storms, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. As this Report will show, disasters caused by hardware failures, for example, far outpace those caused by Mother Nature, although they seldom make the evening news.

Regardless of a disaster’s origin, one thing is certain: The resulting downtime can bring a small to mid-sized business to the brink. In fact, a report from HP and SCORE estimates that 25 percent of small businesses do not reopen following a major disaster. And an oft-quoted Aberdeen Group report estimates that just an hour of downtime costs a mid-sized business $74,000; IDC puts it at an almost equally frightening $70,000 an hour.

Unfortunately, system downtime typically lasts for much longer than an hour. In fact, IT managers surveyed by Harris Interactive estimate that it typically takes 30 hours for recovery. (This may, by the way, come as a surprise to executives, who put the estimate closer to a mere 10 hours.)

While we cannot hope to stop disasters from occurring, we can stem their damage. Disaster recovery technology that enables instant recovery of data, applications and systems — along with frequent and regular system testing — is the only way to safeguard a company’s revenue, customers and reputation.

Quorum, the hybrid cloud disaster recovery solution, worked with the information they gathered over 2012 to better look into the problems that IT teams have that lead to disasters. This Disaster Recovery Report outlined the top 4 issues that IT teams will have to face: hardware failure, human error, software failure, and natural disasters.

Hardware Failure

At 55 percent, hardware failure is the No. 1 cause of downtime for small to mid-sized businesses. With several levels of redundancy of various components — such as multiple power supplies, network controllers and hard drives — it may seem like your bases are covered. Still, like any other disaster, no one can predict when the air conditioning will fail on a hot day, what unforeseen event will trigger a widespread power outage, or which cords the resident rodent will chew through.

Storage-area network (SAN) failures are among the hardware-failure disasters many small to mid-sized businesses experience. It’s common for these businesses to have a large SAN, and all storage servers virtualized onto that SAN. Unfortunately, this means that when the SAN dies, a company’s entire environment dies with it.


Human Error

Of course, we can’t attribute all disasters to technical difficulties. According to our findings, 22 percent of disasters are caused by human error. This could include accidentally wiping out a file system on a server.

While something like this may be considered a “rookie move,” it’s not necessarily relegated exclusively to rookies. An executive of a private healthcare center in Florida, for example, has (more than once) deleted her entire mailbox. Thanks to her choice to deploy a disaster recovery system that takes incremental snapshots of the center’s servers, this executive was able to recover valuable correspondence and avoid certain personal disaster.


Software Failure

Software failure ranks third in overall disasters at 18 percent, and it’s no wonder, given the number of patches routinely sent out (so numerous, in fact, that Microsoft dedicated a day of the week to sending them). The issue lies in the lack of attention to testing patches before they are sent out, resulting in corruption of applications that can bring down entire systems or make them otherwise unavailable.

Operating systems that have been limping along for some time and finally die also contribute greatly to software failure. And we cannot overlook the impact viruses and malware have, of course. In fact, in the first half of 2012, 36 percent of targeted attacks were unleashed on small to mid-sized businesses, which was double the number seen in a six-month period in 2011, according to the “Symantec Internet Security Threat Report.” These attacks can infect entire networks, effectively bringing a company to its knees.


Natural Disasters

Since tornadoes, earthquakes and the like are often the first that come to mind when we consider the word “disaster,” it’s ironic that natural disasters comprise a mere 5 percent in our infographic. Still, their effects are obviously without parallel. For example, a report from HP and SCORE entitled “Impact on U.S. Small Business of Natural & Man-Made Disasters” indicates that 70 percent of small firms that experience a major data loss go out of business within a year.


Navigating the Landscape and Knowing the Solutions

To ensure that companies don’t have to face the terror and disappointment of losing data to a disaster, there is a whole industry devoted to the art of recovery. The disaster recovery market is laden with various solutions. The following describes three of the most common types.


Tape and Disk Backup

For many years, tape and disk backup dominated the disaster recovery industry. These solutions are still widely used, but their foothold as the preferred method is weakening as their drawbacks become ever clearer; specifically, their expense and complexity, and their inability to recover systems and applications in real time. Given the prohibitive cost of downtime for small to mid-sized businesses, hours- or days-long lags in restoration are devastating.

Furthermore, regular testing, so imperative to ensuring business continuity during a real disaster, is also particularly difficult and time-consuming with these solutions, and many products do not even offer testing as a functionality.


Cloud Backup

Cloud backup has more recently emerged as an alternative to tape and disk backup, leveraging virtualization and the cloud to make data backup more convenient.

Still, for small to mid-sized businesses, cloud backup alone can sometimes make recovery times worse because of the limited Internet bandwidth available to them. And if a large amount of data must be recovered, it still involves shipping physical media, which defeats the main purpose of the move from offsite tape to cloud.


Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud solutions present a reliable alternative to both tape and disk backup and cloud backup alone, as they deliver the advantages of virtualized data center replication without the high cost and complexity. These solutions function by maintaining up-to-date, ready-to-run virtual machine clones of a company’s critical systems that can run locally or in the cloud. And because they transparently take over for failed servers within minutes, recovery is instant and business-as-usual resumes without impact. In addition, testing in environments that have deployed a hybrid cloud solution is made easy with automatic and on-demand capabilities.