A Guide on Disaster Recovery for IT Systemsby@alextray
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A Guide on Disaster Recovery for IT Systems

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The key elements of a DR plan are: Risk assessment and impact analysis Defined RPO and RTO DR team responsibilities distributed DR site creation Preparations for failback Remote storage Equipment list Established communication channels Immediate response sequences Incident reporting instructions Disaster recovery testing and adjustment Optimal DR strategy choice

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Alex Tray

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Modern organizations need complex IT infrastructures functioning properly to provide goods and services at the expected level of performance. Therefore, losing critical parts or the whole infrastructure can put the organization on the edge of disappearance. Disasters remain a threat to production processes.

What is a disaster?

A disaster is challenging trouble that instantly overwhelms the capacity of available human, IT, financial and other resources and results in significant losses of valuable assets (for example, documents, intellectual property objects, data, or hardware).

In most cases, a disaster is a sudden chain of events causing non-typical threats that are difficult or impossible to stop once the disaster starts. Depending on the type of disaster, an organization needs to react in specific ways.

There are three main types of disasters:

  1. Natural disasters

  2. Technological and human-made disasters

  3. Hybrid disasters

A natural disaster is the first thing that probably comes to your mind when you hear the word “disaster”. Different types of natural disasters include floods, earthquakes, forest fires, abnormal heat, intense snowfalls, heavy rains, hurricanes and tornadoes, and sea and ocean storms.

Technological disaster is the consequence of anything connected with the malfunctions of tech infrastructure, human error or evil will. The list can include any issue from a software disruption in an organization to a power plant problem causing difficulties in the whole city, region or even country.

These are disasters such as global software disruption, critical hardware malfunction, power outage, and any electricity supply problem, malware infiltration (including ransomware attacks), telecommunication issues (including network isolation), military conflicts, terrorism incidents, dam failures, chemical incidents.

The third category to mention describes mixed disasters that unite the features of natural and technological factors. For example, a dam failure can cause a flood resulting in a power outage and communication issues across the entire region or country.

What is disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery (DR) is a set of actions (methodology) that an organization should take to recover and restore operations after a global disruptive event. Major disaster recovery activities focus on regaining access to data, hardware, software, network devices, connectivity, and power supply. DR actions can also cover rebuilding logistics, relocating staff members, and purchasing office equipment, in case of damaged or destroyed assets.

To create a disaster recovery plan, you need to think over the action sequences to complete during these periods:

  1. Before the disaster (building, maintaining, and testing the DR system and policies).

  2. During the disaster (applying the immediate response measures to avoid or mitigate asset losses).

  3. After the disaster (applying the DR system to restore operation, contacting clients, partners, and officials, and analyzing losses and recovery efficiency).

Here are the points to include in your disaster recovery plan

  • Business impact analysis and risk assessment data

At this step, you study threats and vulnerabilities typical and most dangerous for your organization. With that knowledge, you can also calculate the probability of a particular disaster occurring, measure potential impacts on your production and implement suitable disaster recovery solutions easier.

  • Recovery objectives: defined RPO and RTO

RPO is the recovery point objective: the parameter defines the amount of data you can lose without a significant impact on production. RTO is the recovery time objective: the longest downtime your organization can tolerate and, thus, the maximum time you can have to complete recovery workflows.

  • Distribution of responsibilities

A team that is aware of every member’s duties in case of disaster is a must-have component of an efficient DR plan. Assemble a special DR team, assign specific roles to every employee and train them to fulfill their roles before an actual disaster strikes. This is the way to avoid confusion and missing links when real action is required to save an organization’s assets and production.

  • DR site creation

A disaster of any scale or nature can critically damage your main server and production office, making resuming operations there impossible or extraordinarily time-consuming. In this situation, a prepared DR site with replicas of critical workloads is the best choice to minimize RTO and continue providing services to the organization’s clients during and after in an emergency.

  • Failback preparations

Failback, which is the process of returning the workloads back to the main site when the main data center is operational again, can be overlooked when planning disaster recovery.

Nevertheless, establishing failback sequences beforehand helps to make the entire process smoother and avoid minor data losses that might happen otherwise. Additionally, keep in mind that a DR site is usually not designed to support your infrastructure’s functioning for a prolonged period.

  • Remote storage for crucial documents and assets

Even small organizations produce and process a lot of crucial data nowadays. Losing hard copies or digital documents can make their recovery time-consuming, expensive or even impossible.

Thus, preparing remote storage (for example, VPS cloud storage for digital docs and protected physical storage for hard copy assets) is a solid choice to ensure the accessibility of important data in case of disaster.

  • Equipment requirements noted

This DR plan element requires auditing the nodes that enable the functioning of your organization’s IT infrastructure. This includes computers, physical servers, network routers, hard drives, cloud-based server hosting equipment, etc.

That knowledge enables you to view the elements required to restore the original state of the IT environment after a disaster. What’s more, you can see the list of equipment required to support at least mission-critical workloads and ensure production continuity when the main resource is unavailable.

  • Communication channels defined

Ensure enabling a stable and reliable internal communication system for your staff members, management, and DR team. Set the order of communication channels’ usage to deal with the unavailability of the main server and internal network right after a disaster.

  • Response procedures outlined

In a DR plan, the first hours are critical. Create step-by-step instructions on how to execute DR activities, monitor and conduct processes, failover sequences, system recovery verification, etc. In case a disaster still hits the production center despite all the prevention measures applied, a concentrated and rapid response to a particular event can help mitigate the damage.

  • Incident reporting to stakeholders

After a disaster strikes and disrupts your production, not only DR team members should be informed. You also need to notify key stakeholders, including your marketing team, third-party suppliers, partners, and clients.

As a part of your disaster recovery plan, create outlines and scripts showing your staff how to inform every critical group regarding its concerns. Additionally, a basic press release created beforehand can help you not to waste time during an actual incident.

  • DR plan testing and adjustment

Successful organizations change and expand with time, and their DR plans should be adjusted according to the relevant needs and recovery objectives. Test your plan right after you finish it and perform additional testing every time you introduce changes. Thus, you can measure the efficiency of a disaster recovery plan and ensure the recoverability of your assets.

  • Optimal DR strategy applied

The DR strategy can be implemented on a DIY (do it yourself) basis or delegated to a third-party vendor. The former choice is the way to sacrifice reliability in favor of the economy, while the latter one can be more expensive but more efficient.

The choice of a DR strategy fully depends on your organization’s features, including the team size, IT infrastructure complexity, budget, risk factors, and desired reliability, among others.

Summary

A disaster is a sudden destructive event that can render an organization inoperable. Natural, human-made, and hybrid disasters have different levels of predictability but they are barely preventable at an organization’s level. The only way to ensure the safety of an organization is to create a reliable disaster recovery plan based on the organization’s specific needs.

The key elements of a DR plan are:

  1. Risk assessment and impact analysis
  2. Defined RPO and RTO
  3. DR team responsibilities distributed
  4. DR site creation
  5. Preparations for failback
  6. Remote storage
  7. Equipment list
  8. Established communication channels
  9. Immediate response sequences
  10. Incident reporting instructions
  11. Disaster recovery testing and adjustment
  12. Optimal DR strategy choice


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