20 Oct

Tips For Effective Disaster Recovery Planning

disaster plan - Tips For Effective Disaster Recovery Planning
Image credit: Stuart Miles

Disaster Recovery (DR) planning is very important for every organization. The stresses of daily work make it all too easy to put DR planning on the back burner, but having a solid plan in place will be crucial if (when) disaster strikes. The following tips and pointers will both illuminate the importance of a DR plan, and get you started towards building and maintaining your plan.

Assess Risks. Catastrophic data loss due to hardware / media failures, hacking, accidents and the like are the most obvious considerations, but the DR plan should consider all of the possible risks involved. A DR plan is like an insurance policy: you need to identify what kind of insurance is required, as well as the type and level of risks your organization is willing to take. Things like seismic events, floods, fires, weather events and more must be among the contingencies being planned for. There may also be elements particular to an organization’s environment that must be taken in consideration when determining what constitutes a disaster.

Formulate a recovery plan. Disaster Recovery planning can be a daunting task, especially when one considers the plethora of situations to be accommodated, and the many alternatives that can be pursued. The DR plan should cover of all the functional areas of your organization that are touched by IT, with full controls for the before, during, and after-disaster states. Important and seemingly obvious details that are often overlooked include: designating who will confirm the disaster incident, determining how the notification will be circulated to personnel, assigning responsibilities for carrying out various aspects of the plan, and in the event that the disaster affects customer-facing systems or processes, providing for the assurance to clients that the organization is still functioning and ready to assist them with their needs.

Selecting locations for backup storage and operations recovery. Investing the time and effort up front to select the proper locations for storage of backups – and for remote recovery if that is part of the DR plan – will pay off, should disaster strike. Ideally, more than one geographically disparate storage location would be used. While a copy of backups can be stored locally for convenience, it is imperative that complete and current backups be stored off-site. Timely recovery from a major disaster may require relocation of business operations / personnel for some period of time; in that case, the DR plan should include an alternate physical location if the main business location is destroyed. In general, properly managed redundancy will help to minimize the chances of losing the entire operations and increase the business chances to get reworking quickly.

Oversee the implementation process. Once a plan has been formulated, implementation, testing and maintenance must be carried out diligently. Proper management of a DR plan is critical for successful execution; a poorly managed plan is essentially useless and will do little more than provide a false sense of security. The IT industry as well as the needs of those that is serves is constantly evolving and changing, so the DR plan must be designed to accommodate this. A DR plan that does not keep pace with the change of the organization will ultimately become obsolete – it’s only a matter of time.

Test the plan. The DR plan should be tested on a regular basis, with both the speed and the completeness of recovery being evaluated to ensure that those factors meet the organization’s goals. The capability of any plan is very much dependent on the measurement of its functionality while testing it in realistic conditions, by mimicking an actual disaster as closely as possible. Testing under a variety of simulated disaster conditions is the most effective way to expose any weaknesses in the DR plan. The outcome of plan testing should be documented – both the successes and the failures, so that the plan’s effectiveness can be measured and improved.

Safeguard copies of software license keys and subscriptions. There are so many programs and software that are added to a business on a daily basis. Safeguard and keep copies of all the activation keys and subscription plans for your software. While the majority of software programs are distributed as downloadable installers, it is better not to count on that method being readily available, so store installation media as part of your DR plan.

The DR plan is one that you hope you will never have to put into practice, but sound planning to prevent the losses that can take place during a disaster can help lessen the damage. If an incident does occur, one must view it as an opportunity to improve and refine the DR plan. With a well-designed DR plan, you will have a complete audit of what has worked, an infrastructure in place to reduce the damage and a team that is well-trained and practiced in mitigating disasters and getting the organization back to operating status as quickly as possible.