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Mastering disaster recovery planning: top suggestions to follow

Regarding disaster recovery planning, the key is having a solid plan to help your organization bounce back after losing data or IT equipment due to natural or human-made disasters. The main objective of a well-thought-out disaster recovery plan is to ensure that your business can recover swiftly and with minimal disruptions. In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of disaster recovery planning and the essential steps in creating a plan to help you develop and implement a DRP template.

DRaaS

Understanding the basics of a disaster recovery plan (DRP)

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a carefully crafted set of strategies and procedures that enable an organization to bounce back from unexpected events that can disrupt its technology systems and business operations. It is an essential part of security and business continuity planning.

  • The unpredictable nature of our world has highlighted the importance of being prepared for disasters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and devastating wildfires witnessed in 2021.
  • Businesses must ensure the uninterrupted provision of their services even in the face of adversity.
  • Developing a disaster recovery plan enables organizations to achieve this level of preparedness.
  • The plan involves identifying critical resources that are essential for business operations.
  • Strategies and measures are devised to protect and back up these critical resources.
  • By implementing a disaster recovery plan, businesses can minimize the impact of disasters and swiftly recover their operations.
  • The plan acts as a roadmap, providing a precise sequence of steps to be taken during a disaster.
  • Roles and responsibilities are defined to ensure an organized and efficient response.
  • The plan also addresses the necessary resources and technologies required for recovery.
  • It aims to increase resilience and minimize downtime, ensuring consistent service delivery.
  • A well-designed plan considers various types of disasters and tailors recovery strategies accordingly.
  • Regular reviews and updates to the plan help organizations learn from past experiences and improve its effectiveness.

In essence, a disaster recovery plan acts as a roadmap for businesses, guiding them in navigating through challenging circumstances and swiftly restoring normalcy. It outlines the steps to be taken, the roles and responsibilities of individuals or teams involved, and the resources and technologies required for recovery. Organizations can increase their resilience and minimize downtime by having a well-thought-out disaster recovery plan, ensuring that their services are delivered consistently and without significant interruption, even in unexpected disasters.

The crucial role of a stable disaster recovery plan (DRP)

A stable Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) is significant for businesses. Without a solid plan, managing and recovering from various types of disasters that can disrupt operations becomes challenging. These disasters can range from IT outages and cyberattacks to transportation network disruptions caused by natural calamities like hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or even human-made events like power outages and acts of terrorism.

The cost of disruption: financial and reputational implications

Disruptions can lead to significant costs for organizations. According to Dell’s 2022 GDPI snapshot, the frequency of cyberattacks and disruptive events is rising. In the past year alone, 86% of organizations experienced unplanned disruptions, compared to 76% in 2018. These disruptions resulted in an estimated total cost of $910,242, a significant increase from $578,235 in the previous year.
Beyond the financial impact, business continuity is vital for maintaining a positive reputation and earning the trust of customers and stakeholders. When businesses are well-prepared and can effectively respond to disasters, they demonstrate their commitment to providing uninterrupted services and protecting sensitive data.

Let’s explore the essential steps in developing a practical and effective disaster recovery plan template for your business. By following these steps, you can ensure that you are well-prepared to handle and recover from any potential disasters that may arise.

Essential steps to developing an effective disaster recovery plan

Step 1: Assemble a team of experts and stakeholders

  • Department Heads: Each business unit has critical assets and functions that must comply with legal regulations. It’s important to include representatives from each department to ensure their specific needs are addressed in the DRP.
  • Human Resources: An HR representative should be part of the team to facilitate internal communication during work disruption. They are crucial in keeping employees informed and ensuring a smooth recovery process.
  • Public Relations Officers (PROs): Including PROs in the team is essential for maintaining positive media outreach. They help keep customers and stakeholders well-informed during a crisis, ensuring a positive and transparent communication strategy.
  • Infrastructure Subject Matter Experts (SMEs): These experts have a deep understanding of the organization’s hardware, software, data, and network connectivity. Their valuable insights are crucial for creating an effective disaster recovery plan (DRP).
  • Senior Management: Involving senior management is vital for aligning the DRP goals with the organization’s business objectives and strategies. They provide valuable guidance and ensure the DRP supports the overall business continuity planning (BCP) efforts.

 

In addition to the internal team members mentioned earlier, including external stakeholders in the final disaster recovery plan is crucial. This includes property managers, law enforcement contacts, and emergency responders. These external partners play vital roles in ensuring a coordinated and effective response during a crisis. It’s important to regularly update and maintain the contact information for these external stakeholders. By doing so, you can ensure that the right people are reached promptly and efficiently when their expertise and assistance are needed.

Remember, keeping these external contacts current and relevant is an ongoing process to enhance the effectiveness of your disaster recovery plan.

Step 2: Assessing the business impact and conducting inventory analysis

To build a solid disaster recovery plan (DRP), conducting a business impact analysis (BIA) is essential. This step forms the foundation of a comprehensive DRP. The business is assessed during the examination by breaking it down into its assets, services, and functions. Each purchase and service is carefully evaluated to determine the potential consequences of its failure. Factors such as financial losses, reputational damage, and regulatory penalties are considered. This evaluation helps identify how long the company can operate without facing these negative impacts if a particular asset or service fails.

During the inventory process, capturing essential information about the assets that play a crucial role in driving the organization’s operations is necessary. These assets include:

  • Hardware refers to physical equipment such as servers, computers, and other devices supporting the organization’s IT infrastructure.
  • The software encompasses various applications and systems to perform different functions and processes.
  • Network infrastructure: This includes the network components like routers, switches, and cables that enable communication and connectivity within the organization.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications: These are cloud-based software applications accessed and utilized by the organization through a subscription model, eliminating the need for local installation and maintenance.
  • Virtual machines (VMs): VMs are virtualized operating systems or software environments that allow multiple operating systems or applications to run simultaneously on a single physical computer.

 

The organization better understands its operational foundation by gathering comprehensive details about these assets, such as their specifications, configurations, and dependencies. This information forms a vital part of the inventory analysis, providing insights into the criticality and interdependencies of these assets within the organization’s infrastructure. As a result of this step, an inventory list is created. It includes cost, legal and regulatory requirements, operating system specifications, configuration settings, version numbers, license keys, and the criticality of each asset. Assets deemed mission-critical, whose failure could significantly disrupt the company’s services, are appropriately identified. Conducting this thorough inventory and analysis helps prioritize resources, plan for contingencies, and ensure the continuity of critical business operations during a disaster.

Step 3: Identify the key metrics for disaster recovery planning

After completing the Business Impact Analysis (BIA), it is essential to quantify a business’s IT infrastructure and processes in terms of downtime costs and criticality. This allows us to establish concrete recovery goals for each company function.

Goal 1: Setting the Metric for Recovery Time Objective (RTO)

The recovery time objective refers to the maximum allowable downtime for a particular service without significantly impacting the business. For example, an e-commerce website’s “Add to Cart” functionality should ideally be restored within a few minutes, while the “Customer Care chat history” option may have a slightly longer acceptable downtime of a couple of hours.

Goal 2: Defining the metric for recovery point objective (RPO)

Addressing disaster vulnerabilities often involves implementing security changes and backing up critical data. The recovery point objective defines the frequency at which data should be backed up for each asset or function. It determines how much data can be lost during an unplanned incident.

For instance, marketing and sales data may be over 24 hours old without causing significant damage. Still, banking transactions must be as recent as five minutes ago to ensure minimal data loss. It’s worth noting that these metrics are not solely based on business impact. Compliance with industry regulations also plays a crucial role. For example, hospitals that lose patient electronic health records may face penalties under HIPAA regulations. Organizations like Hystax can develop effective disaster recovery plans that fully address downtime and data loss by considering the business impact and regulatory requirements.

Step 4: Perform a comprehensive risk assessment and define the scope of the disaster recovery plan

Analyze all potential threats

Consider various factors that could disrupt the normal functioning of the business, such as natural disasters, national emergencies, regional crises, regulatory changes, application failures, data center disasters, communication breakdowns, and cyberattacks. Develop strategies to address each of these threats, including hardware maintenance, power outage protection, and safeguards against ransomware.

Evaluate business vulnerability

Assess the business’s vulnerability to each identified threat. Quantify the time and resources required to address each threat and consider the potential costs of leaving any risks unaddressed.

Develop response plans

Create specific response plans for each vulnerability to minimize the potential damage caused by each threat. These plans may involve upgrading hardware and software, implementing security controls, and enhancing security policies.

Establish a risk management plan

Consider each identified risk’s costs and potential losses. Also, evaluate the frequency and probability of occurrence for each threat. One effective way to document the risk assessment is by using a risk assessment matrix. This approach allows you to rank each potential disaster based on its likelihood, impact on the business, and your level of preparedness. Based on these rankings, you can prioritize which risks require more attention while developing your disaster recovery plan template.

During the Business Impact Analysis (BIA) stage, assessing the potential losses the business may face is essential. In the subsequent risk assessment stage, the focus shifts to identifying the root causes of these potential losses. To conduct a thorough risk assessment, follow these steps and consider all the potential threats and vulnerabilities. By doing so, you can define the scope of your disaster recovery plan and ensure effective preparedness for any future disruptions.

Step 5: Determine the suitable type of a disaster recovery plan

Regarding disaster recovery planning, it’s essential to recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be ideal for every business. Based on the outcomes of the previous steps and considering your DRP budget, you can choose from the following types of disaster recovery plans:

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)

If your organization lacks the expertise or resources to create an in-house DRP, you can opt for a DRaaS solution provided by a third-party service provider. Ensure the service level agreement (SLA) aligns with your DRP objectives. DRaaS costs vary based on the desired recovery planning goals. Some DRaaS solutions incorporate advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive analysis to proactively detect ransomware, predict data loss, and anticipate hardware failure or application downtime during a disaster.

Cloud-based DRP

With a cloud-based DRP, critical assets or the entire primary setup are backed up with a cloud provider. Coordination with the cloud provider is crucial for security, testing, and meeting recovery time objectives (RTOs) and RPOs. Selecting a cloud provider that allows control over the physical and virtual server location is advisable. This option is generally more affordable than data center recovery planning but may be costlier than virtualization-based DRP.

Virtualization-based DRP

This approach involves working with virtual machines instead of physical hardware and recovery sites. The primary infrastructure is stored as images and regularly updated. Virtualization-based DRPs offer cost advantages but require a well-defined recovery strategy, including backup medium selection and recovery software identification.

Datacenter disaster recovery plan

This plan involves maintaining an additional data center, often a disaster recovery site, as a backup. There are three types of data recovery sites to consider:

Hot site: This option involves having a fully replicated copy of your primary data center setup. In the event of a system failure, you can seamlessly switch to the hot site with minimal downtime. Although it is the most effective choice, it can also be expensive.

Warm site: A warm site offers a middle-ground solution. It includes pre-installed software and network configuration, making it suitable for organizations with less critical data and higher recovery point objectives (RPOs).

Cold site: This cost-effective option provides infrastructure backup but requires manual setup and configuration when the primary system fails. It may take longer to get up and running compared to the hot and warm site options.

By carefully considering your specific requirements and available resources, you can determine the most suitable disaster recovery plan for your organization’s needs.

Step 6: Now, let's work on creating your disaster recovery playbook

When creating a disaster recovery playbook, several critical components must be considered. First, it’s essential to determine the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) for each service and develop a step-by-step recovery plan based on the chosen type of disaster recovery.

However, a complete playbook goes beyond these aspects. It should also include a list of employees responsible for each service and their contact information. This ensures that the right people can be reached quickly during a disaster. Information packets should be prepared for each person in charge, containing important details like passwords, access grants, and configuration information obtained during inventory analysis. To ensure a smooth transition and efficient troubleshooting, designate a point of contact who will oversee operations after a disaster. Additionally, include contact information for software vendors and third-party services, including any Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) providers, along with the necessary steps to engage their services.

The playbook should also include information about emergency responders, such as local authorities and emergency services, and contact details for facility owners and property managers. In the case of a data center disaster recovery plan, a diagram of the entire IT infrastructure with recovery sites and access instructions can be included. For virtualization-based programs, provide details about the storage medium for virtual machines (VMs) and the specific steps required for VM recovery. By compiling all of this vital information into the disaster recovery playbook, organizations can effectively respond to and recover from disasters. The playbook is a user-friendly guide, ensuring the right people have the information and contacts readily available to navigate challenging situations and restore operations swiftly.

Step 7: Testing procedure

Testing plays a vital role in ensuring the effectiveness of your disaster recovery plan (DRP). Testing your DRP is crucial for its success, even though it can be a complex and time-consuming process that may involve some costs. However, it is an essential step that should not be overlooked and included in your DRP budget. To test your disaster recovery plan, there are several methods you can consider:

Simulation test

Simulate a disaster scenario and observe your DRP’s performance. This test allows you to assess the preparedness of your plan without impacting your existing operations. By simulating different techniques, you can identify potential gaps or areas for improvement in your DRP.

Full interruption test

This test assumes a complete failure of your primary system, directing all incoming workloads to the failover systems established in your DRP. This test deliberately disrupts your existing system, temporarily taking it offline to evaluate the functionality and performance of your failover mechanisms.

Walkthrough test

Sit down with your DRP team members and stakeholders to carefully review the playbook together. This allows everyone to familiarize themselves with the plan and make necessary corrections or updates. Importantly, this test can be conducted without disrupting ongoing business operations.

Parallel test

Recreate the setup for your essential services using the backup assets and assess their ability to handle real-world transactions. This test is conducted alongside your existing system, which processes data as usual. By running both systems in parallel, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your DRP without interrupting your ongoing operations.

Regular and scheduled DRP testing is recommended. You don’t necessarily have to test the entire system in every cycle; instead, focus on testing individual components based on system changes or routine maintenance. Effective communication with the person in charge is crucial throughout the testing process, and you may also consider combining multiple components for more targeted test runs. To evaluate the effectiveness of your DRP, it is important to determine success metrics. A successful test goes beyond simply implementing the playbook flawlessly. It also involves capturing any identified weaknesses during testing and promptly addressing them. Your DRP should clearly define these success metrics. If you are utilizing Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), testing frequency and success metrics are typically outlined in the service level agreements (SLAs).

Step 8: Develop an effective communication plan

  • Employee awareness training: The HR department should conduct training sessions to educate employees about their roles and responsibilities during a disaster.
  • Scenario walkthroughs: The individuals responsible for different disaster recovery plan (DRP) services should be guided through various scenarios outlined in the playbook at different intervals.
  • Contact information and roles/responsibilities: Easily accessible contact information and clearly defined roles and responsibilities of key personnel are necessary for efficient communication and coordination during emergencies.
  • Disaster recovery exercises and drills: Regularly conducting exercises and drills help evaluate the effectiveness of the DRP, trains employees on their roles, and identifies areas for improvement.
  • The PR team for stakeholder communication: A dedicated PR team or spokesperson helps manage communication during an outage, minimizing stakeholder panic and outrage.
  • Utilizing the DRP for accurate information: The DRP provides valuable information about the cause of failure and estimated system recovery time, enabling stakeholders to be informed and appeased.

Summing up

This article guides readers through the crucial stages of creating a practical and robust disaster recovery plan for businesses. It emphasizes the importance of preparedness in effectively managing and bouncing back from potential crises, providing a template and actionable steps to achieve this level of readiness. If you are experiencing difficulties developing your disaster recovery plan and strategy for a business, we are at your disposal to help you fully understand this aspect.

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