Category: Disaster Recovery

Disaster Recovery is an organizational strategy dealing with a business’ preparedness to respond to an event or disaster. Its purpose is to ensure that a company is able to resume its functions immediately afterward or with a minimum of downtime. Disaster recovery generally focuses on the IT functions of the organization and the resulting potential loss of critical data.

A disaster can cause damage to hardware, equipment, infrastructure, software, and data – not to mention human life.

It is possible that the disaster in question may cause death or serious injury to one or more key personnel within the company. These factors make it even more necessary for businesses to have a disaster recovery planning strategy in place.

Importance of a Disaster Recovery Strategy

An unforeseen catastrophe can halt an organization’s day to day operations and result in a significant loss of data. Failure to recover operations quickly can lead to business closure, loss of reputation or loss of clients resulting in huge financial losses which can reduce the chances of ever recovering.

Recently, Hurricane Matthew caused damage worth an estimated $10 billion in commercial and residential losses. A lot of small businesses either did not have insurance or their insurance wasn’t enough to cover their losses.

The U.S. government later said that 40 percent of companies that weren’t prepared to be able to operate after the disaster were probably forced to shut down.

Types of Disasters

While earthquakes and floods are themselves capable of paralyzing businesses, they are far from the only ones. Disasters can also include:

  1. Tornadoes and severe storms
  2. Hurricanes and tropical storms
  3. Tsunami
  4. Wildfires
  5. Hurricanes
  6. Thunderstorms and lightning
  7. Landslides & debris flow
  8. Power service disruption & blackout
  9. Nuclear power plant and nuclear blast
  10. Radiological emergencies
  11. Cyber attacks
  12. Theft
  13. Explosion
  14. Terrorisms
  15. Chemical threat and biological weapons

This list represents a variety of disasters capable of disrupting businesses and destroying their infrastructure, making it impossible for them to resume day to day operations.

RPO and RTO

When disaster strikes, it’s crucial for businesses to quickly determine how soon they can resume operations. RPO and RTO are the two metrics aiding in making that determination.

RPO – RPO stands for Recovery Point Objective. Essentially, a measurement of how much data a business can afford to lose.

A company may lose data gathered between the time of the disaster and the previous backup. Based on how much of a data loss a company determines it can afford, they can decide on the kind of backup service that is ideal for them.

RTO – RTO stands for Recovery Time Objective.  RTO measures the amount of the downtime their system, network or applications can afford.

Downtime tolerance has dramatically decreased in the last few years, with business clients and customers now expecting little to none. Downtime can cost a business their clients, customers and it is one of the primary factors determining their reputation in the market.

Strategy and Planning in Disaster Recovery

It goes without saying that IT disaster recovery process does not happen overnight and a business will need a structured approach to achieve a sense of normalcy afterward.

According to ISO 27031, an ISO standard for IT disaster recovery and business continuity, strategies to implement the required resilience should be put in place so that the principles of incident prevention, detection, response, recovery, and restoration are adhered to.

A disaster recovery strategy helps you decide what you should do in the face of a disaster, while planning describes how you would do it.

According to Business Continuity Institute board member Paul Kirvan in SearchStorage.co.UK (now ComputerWeekly), some components needed in disaster recovery planning are:

  1. A disaster recovery policy statement, plan overview and main goals of the plan
  2. A diagram of the entire network and recovery site
  3. Key personnel and Disaster Recovery team contact information
  4. Ready-to-use forms to help complete the plan
  5. Proposed actions for dealing with financial and legal issues
  6. Sample templates for a variety of technology recoveries, including technical documentation from vendors
  7. A list of software and systems that will be used in the recovery

He further adds that the development team should also include these activities when creating the Disaster Recovery plan:

  1. Have management review the plan
  2. Schedule the next review/audit of disaster recovery capabilities
  3. Identify the most serious threats and vulnerabilities to the infrastructure
  4. Gather all of the relevant network infrastructure documents
  5. Meet with the internal technology team and network administrator to establish the scope of the plan, and then brief senior management on the meeting
  6. Identify the emergency response team and its capabilities
  7. Have management review the plan
  8. Review the previous history of outages and disruptions and how the business handled them

How is it different from a Backup service

A backup service refers to the process of backing up the company data which can later be used to restore operations in the event of data loss.

Backup forms a part of a complete disaster recovery solution; however, backup is not a disaster recovery solution in itself.

Backups can only be used to restore the data – it doesn’t necessarily restore the functions. Backups may not be able to reconfigure items such as active directory, clusters or databases.

Different storage media can be used to backup data. They are:

  1. Magnetic Tape – Some tape drivers are able to provide faster rates of writing and reading data than others. However, they can also be unreliable and they have their own advantages and disadvantages.
  2. Hard Disk Drive – Hard disk drives are commonly available, easy to use and the storage capacity has increased significantly in the last few years. They can be connected internally as well as externally. However, they are prone to physical damage, especially when being transferred.
  3. Optical Storage – Readily available, data is stored on optical storage devices such as CD’s, DVD’s or Blu-ray discs, and cannot be altered once recorded. The disadvantage to using optical storage is that their speed and capacity may not be as good compared to either magnetic tape or hard disk drives.
  4. Solid State Drive – Solid state drives used to be an expensive option as the storage capacity it previously offered was not sufficient for most company’s needs. Fortunately, their cost has been steadily decreasing while their storage capacity has been increasing. Unlike hard disk drives, they are less susceptible to physical damage and they also offer much faster reading and writing speeds.
  5. Remote backup service – Many companies now see a remote backup service as a more viable option since the data backup is stored safely and securely in a remote location.

Disaster Recovery Testing

Disaster Recovery Testing is the process of determining if the disaster recovery plan in fact works.

Businesses tend to avoid testing their disaster recovery services as it can block their resources while the testing is being conducted. However, it is absolutely necessary to ensure that the strategy and planning have been conducted effectively, which can only be achieved through proper testing.

When a test is conducted it requires training the staff, updating log files and careful auditing post completion of testing.

This provides a perfect analysis as to what part of the strategy works and what needs to be re-planned.

Cloud-based Disaster Recovery – DRaaS

Cloud-based Disaster Recovery is commonly referred to as Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). DRaaS, in essence, replicates a company’s infrastructure.

The DRaaS vendor creates and manages a duplicate physical or virtual server hosting environment which lies in wait in the event of a catastrophic loss of data.

Depending on their agreement, the service ensures that the company faces little or no downtime. Businesses usually opt for Cloud-based disaster recovery for several reasons:

  1. Cost effectiveness – Traditional disaster recovery services usually cost more than cloud-based ones
  2. Remotely Located – The servers are located a different region (state, country or even continent) which can be advantageous when disasters such as tsunamis or power outages affect an entire city
  3. Scalability – The resources are abundantly available in the cloud and are easily scalable
  4. Less Downtime – Cloud-based services are capable of initiating their services immediately once the primary infrastructure is detected to be down

Business Continuity Planning

Disaster recovery planning can be said to be a subset of business continuity planning. While disaster recovery typically focuses on the IT aspect of recovery, business continuity looks at all organizational functions. The primary focus points of business continuity planning include:

  1. Business Resumption Plan
  2. Occupant Emergency Plan
  3. Continuity of Operations Plan
  4. Incident Management Plan
  5. Disaster Recovery Plan

Disaster Recovery Sites

When a business signs up with disaster recovery service vendor they are provided with an external facility acting as a secondary data center location for when the primary data center fails.

These facilities are referred to as disaster recovery sites. A company generally has three main disaster recovery sites to choose from; cold, warm and hot.

  1. Cold Site – A cold site comes with office space, infrastructure, power and cooling units. However, no servers or server related units are actually installed. The IT team is required to install and get all servers functioning. A cold site is the least expensive option of the three but requires the maximum amount of attention.
  2. Warm Site – A warm site comes equipped with everything the cold site offers, and also provides some or all of data center equipment. The servers come ready for installation. Warm sites attempt to find the middle ground between cold and hot sites.
  3. Hot Site – A hot site completely replicates one’s entire primary data center infrastructure. It comes with office space and data centers. The data centers in the hot site are always running concurrently with the primary data center and they are always ready to come into action as soon as the primary data center fails. Hot sites cost a lot more in comparison to Cold and Warm sites.
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