Prepared to Recover From an IT Disaster?

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Knowing that an IT disaster could strike at any time and planning accordingly is critical to providing companies a chance to survive after such a crisis. Businesses of all sizes require enterprise-class IT reliability to effectively conduct business. Because data availability is a crucial component of all businesses, the need for companies to develop a thorough disaster recovery plan is essential.

Faulkner Information Services compellingly found that 50 percent of companies that lose their data due to disasters go out of business within 24 months, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor indicates that 93 percent are out of business within five years.

10 Tips for IT Disaster Recovery Planning

1. Devise a disaster recovery plan:To begin, define what is important to keep the business running and the recovery-time objective: how quickly the company needs to be up and running post-disaster. Other key plan components to consider are who within the organization declares the disaster, how employees are informed it has occurred and what method of communication are used with customers to reassure them the company can still service their needs.

2. Monitor implementationOnce a disaster recovery plan has been established, it is critical to monitor the plan to ensure its components are implemented effectively. A disaster recovery plan should be viewed as a living, breathing document that can and should be updated frequently.

3. Test:A 2007 eWeek survey of more than 500 senior IT professionals revealed that a whopping 89 percent of companies test their disaster recovery/failover systems only once per year or not at all, leaving their enterprises vulnerable to massive technology and business failures. The effectiveness of the disaster recovery plan only can be assessed if rigorous testing is carried out one or more times per year in simulated realistic conditions.

4. Perform offsite data backup and storage:As part of establishing a backup data solution, every company should use a secure off-site data storage center. Additionally, companies need to determine their recovery-point objective: the time between the last available backup and when a disruption potentially could occur. Every company should back up its data at least once daily, but should strongly consider more frequent backup or continuous data protection.

5. Perform data restoration tests:Using tape backup for data storage has been integral of IT operations for many years. However, this form of backup has not been the most reliable. Today, disk-to-disk systems are gaining popularity. With either type of system, the backup software and the hardware on which it resides need to be checked daily to verify that backup is completed successfully. With tape backup, companies need to store the tapes in an off-site location that is secure and accessible, while disk systems need to have an off-site replication if the backup is not run off-site initially. Moreover, companies need to test restoration monthly to validate that it can be accomplished during a disaster.

6. Backup laptops and desktops:Although many companies have policies requiring employees to store all data on the company’s network, it is not prudent to assume the policy is being followed. Backing up laptops and desktops protects this critical data in the event of a lost, stolen or damaged workstation. Using an automatic desktop and laptop data protection and recovery solution is ideal.

7. Be redundant: Establishing redundant servers for all critical data and providing an alternate way to access that data are essential components of an organization’s disaster recovery planning and can bring disaster recovery time down to minutes rather than days.

8. Invest in theft recovery and data delete solutions for laptops:Unlike desktops, laptops are more easily misplaced or stolen, thus requiring organizations to secure data deletion and theft recovery options for their users’ laptops. Theft recovery solutions can locate, recover and return lost or stolen computers, while data delete options can enable companies to delete data remotely from lost or stolen computers, thereby preventing the release of sensitive information.

9. Install regular virus pattern updates:IT infrastructure is one of those realities of business life that most companies take for granted. Organizations need to protect their data and systems by installing regular virus pattern updates as part of disaster recovery planning, which may even help prevent a crisis from happening.

10. Consider hiring a managed services provider:For small- to medium-sized businesses, it is often cost prohibitive to implement a sound disaster recovery plan. Frequently, these organizations lack the technical professionals to accomplish this. Managed services providers (MSPs) have emerged in recent years to perform this role. MSPs have the technical personnel to design, implement and manage complex disaster recovery projects. Additionally, MSPs have the server, storage and network infrastructure in place to manage a true disaster recovery plan.

Future of Disaster Recovery Planning

In determining the components of a disaster recovery plan, organizations need to make tough compromises, sacrificing the level of recovery with cost. A relatively new form of technology — server virtualization — is beginning to gain popularity as a viable and cost-effective means of achieving highly available, redundant systems. Server virtualization allows companies to consolidate multiple server functions on one host server, thus lowering total cost of operation and effectively managing emerging hardware advancements.

In the case of a natural disaster or power outage that impacts a company’s primary facility, a host server in a separate location connected to a SAN targeted for virtual server replication quickly can be enabled, and with little effort. By capitalizing on increased virtual server performance as a result of software advancements and lower hardware costs with higher capacity, a robust and full-featured disaster recovery plan will be more readily attainable by more organizations.

Bottom Line

All businesses are vulnerable to being negatively impacted by a serious incident, possibly causing it to close its doors or disrupt normal business operations at any time. Development of a well-structured and coherent disaster recovery plan will enable companies to recover quickly and effectively from an unforeseen disaster or emergency, thus avoiding significant business interruption and loss.

Paul Chisholm is chairman and CEO of mindSHIFT Technologies Inc. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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