Technology Is Only Part of Disaster Recovery Planning
Having the right technology in place is only one part of an effective disaster recovery plan. What's too often overlooked are people and facilities. If a disaster should strike, it's vital that important data can be saved, but complete recovery planning will take into account that people will need to go to their homes or to other offices and facilities to resume normal operations.
As a Disaster Recovery (DR) professional, I cannot tell you how many of my clients focus only on the server systems when they do DR planning. Every server must be accounted for, protected, backed up and ready to be brought back online if they lose the physical site that hosts the production system. The problem is that this approach leaves out two-thirds of the total DR planning that the modern organization must do in order to survive a site disaster. Technology is not a small part of your IT DR planning, but it is only one part.
When approaching DR planning, think of it as a trinity of concerns. First you have the technology, which most companies plan for in some way. Secondly, you have people. Your employees that use the data systems have to be taken into consideration. Third, you have facilities -- after all, you do need someplace to house the technology and personnel.
Technology and People
Technological resiliency is a theory that IT shops deal with daily. They know how the servers are backed up or replicated (most times, both). They know how they'll perform which operations during a restoration and/or failover procedure. While testing DR technology plans still happens woefully infrequently, the planning itself is handled in the majority of businesses these days.
People, on the other hand, are often ignored. Companies plan how all their vital data systems will fail over within minutes to another location, but don't know what to do with the employees who are sitting in the same building as the failed servers. Even if it was something as simple as a bandwidth failure that caused the failover to happen, the users who would normally connect over that same bandwidth are now twiddling their thumbs.
Complete DR planning will take into account that people will need to go to their homes or to other offices and facilities to resume normal operations. They may need VPN connectivity or remote desktop (terminal services) systems in place to allow them to access their applications when their desktops are no long accessible.
They'll also need some method to keep connected to the DR planners so they can be alerted as to where to go and what to do in order to get back online. How will you send a company-wide email when no one in the company can access the email systems? Smartphones may help, but most organizations don't use smartphones for every employee impacted by the disaster. Telephone lists, websites and other tools can help get the word out and get personnel where they need to be. Just make sure that employees are trained on where to look for information well in advance of any disaster.
Whatcha Gonna Do?
Speaking of getting people where they need to be, ensuring that they have somewhere to be is a critical part of the plan. If your DR plan calls for servers to be brought up in a hosted facility, where will your users sit to access those systems? Do you have other offices, or can you rent space at a temporary facility? Where will your clients come to do business with your company, and how will the find you?
While many businesses have embraced the digital age, there are far more who cannot do all of their business virtually. Temporary office space, call centers, phone lines and fax facilities must be planned for well in advance of a disaster. You might also need to arrange transportation and even temporary lodging if critical employees will need to travel in order to reach this new facility. Keep in mind that a single method of travel is just as much of a single point of failure for your DR plan as a single server is.
As you can see, IT DR planning is a large component of a well-rounded DR plan, but it is an invitation for creating a secondary disaster for your business if it is done alone. A true and complete DR plan will allow for people, facilities and technology (think "People, Places and Things") before you're done. Plan for all three effectively, and you will be able to handle disasters on many different levels without fail.
Mike Talon is an enterprise systems engineer at Double-Take Software.