Three Steps to Disaster Recovery Planning for Your IT

alertDisaster strikes all too often. You may have wondered what would happen if a tornado struck, or everyone got snowed in, but have you ever really thought it all through? Be prepared! Follow this three-step process to lay out a technology recovery plan that will fit your business and budget.

Set Priorities

The first step: decide what matters most. In the event of something catastrophic, what computer systems are most critical? Bear in mind, in the worst case scenarios (fire, flood, tornado, etc.), your office may be completely gone. Which systems will allow you to stay afloat as you start to recover?

For example, most business owners consider email a lifeline. Managing financials – especially being able to cut checks – is high for some companies, while others say they would temporarily rely on handwritten checks. Ability to take orders, see the service schedule, look up customer information…any of these could be at the top of your list. Pick what makes sense for you.

Review Hypothetical Situations

Next, look at what kinds of issues might impact your business. The following list includes a variety of problems that could take part or all of your business down. You can shorten the impact by investing in disaster recovery preparedness. Review the following scenarios and pay close attention to what systems are impacted and how long they could be down.

Office and/or equipment destroyed: this could happen with a fire, flood, or the like. You will be dealing with temporary office space, and you must somehow keep the business running in the meantime. You will need to quickly procure replacement equipment as well as your offsite backups for data recovery. Find out how fast these steps can happen. Any services hosted in the cloud should be fine, as long as you have a way to access them. You may even consider moving critical services into the cloud.

Office inaccessible but fine: in the case of snowstorms or floods, your office may be fine but you can’t get to it. If you have advance notice and many of your team have laptops, make sure they are set up for remote access. Cloud-based services are also easy to access remotely. This can keep you going until you can get back into your office.

No power: if you have no power, your equipment can’t run. Thunderstorms and ice storms can take down power lines; in a worst case scenario, it can take days to restore power. Although you probably have UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies) on your servers, they are usually sized to provide only a short amount of runtime so that equipment can be safely powered down. A generator is your best bet in this situation. You’ll also need power for PCs if people are working onsite, or they can connect remotely from a location with power.

No Internet: if your Internet connection goes down, you will be cut off from the web. There will be no access cloud-based services, and you can’t send or receive email. Usually internet outages are brief, but sometimes they can last for a day or more. There is a relatively easy step you can take here: purchase a secondary Internet connection. Be sure it uses a different technology; for example, don’t get DSL if you have a T1 connection. These may share the same phone circuit and could both go down at once. Cable service or broadband wireless connections are good and affordable backup options. You can also set up a firewall that will automatically switch to the backup connection if there is an issue. Otherwise you will have to do that manually, which could take a little time.

Cloud service is down: if a cloud service is down, you should call support immediately but you have limited control over what they do. The best step is a proactive one: select your vendors carefully so that you know you are with a reputable provider with strong support. In the event of an issue, there’s not much you can do besides wait it out.

No phone service: if phones are down, you can switch to cell phones for outbound calls. However, you don’t want to miss inbound calls. Check with your phone service provider to see whether they can forward calls in the event of an outage. If you have a satellite office, forward them there. You can also forward to someone’s cell phone. You may be able to set this up to happen automatically, but you may want control over this so one of your team isn’t suddenly surprised by a huge flood of unexpected calls that end up in someone’s personal voicemail.

Server failure: if your server goes down, recovery is entirely dependent on your infrastructure. For hardware issues, your best protection is virtualization and image-based backup technology. This combination, when properly configured, allows you to move everything on the failed server over to another server very quickly – at least, if you have another server to move it to. It can also help with software issues, because you can “roll back” the server to a point before it crashed. Without this protection, you are dependent on your techs to solve the problem as quickly as they can. Ask your techs what the timeline on a recovery from backup would be. The answer might be minutes, hours, or days. Also factor in warranty status: if you have same-day parts replacement on your server, you will be in much better shape than if you have an expired warranty on an old server where parts may be hard to find.

Create a Plan

This list does not cover every possible disaster scenario, but it’s a great start. Make a list of next steps: calls to vendors for more information, questions for your tech about what you have in place, and any major concerns. Once you’ve done your homework, you may have some upgrades to do. Finally, document your plans so that they are readily available if and when disaster strikes.

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