Disaster Recovery: 5 Key Features and Building Your DR Plan

Disaster Recovery

Disaster Recovery: 5 Key Features and Building Your DR Plan

Disaster can strike a business at any moment. Research shows that without preparation and data protection, over 50% of businesses will not survive a major disaster. It is crucial to assess your IT infrastructure and understand what information security measures you can take to decrease the damage caused by a disaster and recover operations quickly. Learn about four essential elements you must include in your disaster recovery program for it to be effective.

In this article you will learn:

What is Disaster Recovery?

Disaster recovery is the practice of anticipating, planning for, surviving, and recovering from a disaster that may affect a business. Disasters can include:

  • Natural events like earthquakes or hurricanes
  • Failure of equipment or infrastructure, such as a power outage or hard disk failure
  • Man-made calamities such as accidental erasure of data or loss of equipment
  • Cyber attacks by hackers or malicious insiders

What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

A disaster recovery plan enables businesses to respond quickly to a disaster and take immediate action to reduce damage, and resume operations as quickly as possible.

A disaster recovery plan typically includes:

  • Emergency procedures staff can carry out when a disaster occurs
  • Critical IT assets and their maximum allowed outage time
  • Tools or technologies that should be used for recovery
  • A disaster recovery team, their contact information and communication procedures (e.g. who should be notified in case of disaster)

Why is Disaster Recovery Important?

Drafting a disaster recovery plan, and ensuring you have the right staff in place to carry it out, can have the following benefits:

  • Minimize interruption – in the event of a disaster, even if it is completely unexpected, your business can continue operating with minimal interruption.
  • Limit damages – a disaster will inevitably cause damage, but you can control the extent of damage caused. For example, in hurricane-prone areas, businesses plan to move all sensitive equipment off the floor and into a room with no windows.
  • Training and preparation – having a disaster recovery program in place means your staff are trained to react in case of a disaster. This preparation will lower stress levels and give your team a clear plan of action when an event occurs.
  • Restoration of services – having a solid disaster recovery plan means you can restore all mission critical services to their normal state in a short period of time. Your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) will determine the longest time you are willing to wait until service is restored.

What Is the Difference Between Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity?

Business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) are often grouped into one corporate identity called BCDR. However, while the two share similar objectives that help improve the organization’s resiliency, business continuity and disaster recovery differ in scope.

Business continuity is a proactive approach to minimizing risks and ensuring the organization can continue to deliver products and services regardless of the circumstances. BC primarily focuses on defining ways to ensure employees can continue their work and enable the business to continue operations during disaster events.

Disaster recovery is a subset of BC focused mainly on the IT systems required for business continuity. DR defines specific steps needed to resume technology operations after an event occurs. It is a reactive process that requires planning, but organizations implement DR only when a disaster truly occurs.

Related content: Read our guide to disaster recovery and business continuity

How Does Disaster Recovery Work? 5 Key Features of a Disaster Recovery Program

Here are four things you must include in your disaster recovery plan and process, to ensure your business continuity.

1. Know Your Threats

Learn about the history of your business, the industry and the region, and map out the threats you are most likely to face. These should include natural disasters, geopolitical events like wars or civil unrest, failure to critical equipment like servers, Internet connections or software, and cyber attacks that are most likely to affect your type of business.

Ensure your disaster recovery plan is effective against all, or at least the most likely or most significant threats. If necessary, develop separate DR plans or separate sections within your DR plan for specific types of disasters.

2. Know Your Assets

It’s important to be comprehensive. Get your team together and make a big list of all the assets that are important for the day-to-day operations of your business. In the IT sphere this includes network equipment, servers, workstations, software, cloud services, mobile devices, and more. Once you have your list organize it into:

  • Critical assets your business cannot operate without – for example, an email server
  • Important assets that can seriously hamper some activities – for example, a projector used for presentations
  • Other assets that will not have a major effect on the business – for example, a recreational system used by employees on their lunch break

3. Define Your RTO and RPO

Define your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) for critical assets. What period of downtime can you sustain? For example, a high traffic eCommerce site sustains major financial damage for every minute of downtime. An accounting firm may be able to sustain a day or two of downtime and resume normal operations, provided there is no data loss. Build a process and obtain technological means that can help you bring operations back online within the RTO.

The term recovery point objective (RPO) refers to the maximum age of files the organization must recover from backup storage to resume normal operations after a disaster occurs. Organizations use RPO to determine the minimum frequency of backups. For example, a four-hour RPO requires backing up at least every four hours.

4. Set Up Disaster Recovery Sites

A cornerstone of almost every disaster recovery plan is having a way to replicate data between multiple disaster recovery sites. While many businesses schedule periodic data backups, for disaster recovery purposes, the preferred approach is to continuously replicate data to another system. Data may be replicated to:

On-Site Cold Storage

A backup device within your data center.

On-Site Warm Backup

A redundant operational unit in your data center, for example, a secondary server.

Off-Site Cold Storage

A backup device in a remote data center, or cloud storage with high latency, involving a delay or extra cost to retrieve data.

Off-Site Warm Backup

A redundant operational unit in a remote data center, or cloud storage with low latency, enabling immediate data access.

Local storage is less resilient to disaster but gives you a shorter RTO. It also allows you to replicate or backup data more frequently, improving your Recovery Point Objective (RPO) – meaning you can restore your data from almost every point in time.

5. Test Backups and Restoration of Services

Just like business systems can fail in a disaster, so can backups. There are many horror stories of organizations that had a backup system in place, but discovered too late that backups were not actually working properly. A configuration problem, software error or equipment failure can render your backups useless, and you may never know it unless you test them.

An inseparable part of any disaster recovery plan is to test that data is being replicated correctly to the target location. It’s just as important to test that it’s possible to restore data back to your production site. These tests must be conducted once, when you set up your disaster recovery apparatus, and repeated periodically to ensure the setup is still working.

Building Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Here are key steps to help guide you through the process of creating a disaster recovery plan:

Risk Assessment

A disaster recovery plan should start with business impact analysis (BIA) and risk assessment that address the relevant potential disasters. Here are key aspects of considerations:

  • Analyze all functional areas of the organization – this analysis can help you identify possible consequences, such as data loss or leakage.
  • Evaluate risks and define suitable goals – disaster recovery is a key component in larger business continuity plans. Evaluating risks and setting goals can help organizations recover critical business operations that enable continuity even while IT teams address the incident.
  • Determine geographical and infrastructure risk factors – a risk analysis should factor these complex risks to enable organizations to prepare a suitable recovery strategy for these events. You should determine whether you need cloud backup, whether a single site will suffice or do you need multiple sites, and who is allowed access.

Evaluate Critical Needs

Once you have completed a risk assessment, you need to evaluate the critical needs of each department and establish priorities for operations and processing. It involves creating written agreements for predetermined alternatives and specifying the following details:

  • Special security procedures
  • Availability, cost, and duration
  • Guarantee of compatibility
  • Hours of operation
  • Scenarios the organization defines as emergencies
  • System testing
  • A procedure for notifying users of system changes
  • Personnel requirements
  • Specifications of hardware required for critical processes
  • Service extension negotiation process
  • Any relevant contractual issue

Set Disaster Recovery Plan Objectives

Here are key aspects to help you set disaster recovery plan objectives:

  • Create a list of mission-critical operations needed for business continuity – when creating your list, decide which applications, data, user accesses, and equipment are needed to support these operations.
  • Document your RTO and RPO – finalize the required RTO and RPO for each critical asset and document it.
  • Assess service level agreements (SLAs) – all of your objectives should account for SLAs promised to any stakeholder, including users and executives.

Collect Data and Create the Written Document

Data helps create informed and relevant disaster recovery plans. Here are key data types to collect at this stage:

  • Lists – include critical contact information lists, master vendor lists, backup employee position listings, notification checklists, master call lists.
  • Inventories – include communications equipment, documentation, data center computer hardware, forms, microcomputer hardware and software, insurance policies, office equipment, workgroup hardware, and off-site storage location equipment.
  • Schedules – include schedules defined for software and data files backup or retention.
  • Procedures – include all procedures defined for system restore or recovery.
  • Locations – include all temporary disaster recovery locations.
  • Documentation – include any relevant inventories, materials, and lists.

Organize and include this data in a written, documented plan.

Test and Revise

A disaster recovery plan should remain theoretical – you need to regularly test and revise the plan to ensure it remains relevant. Testing can help obtain the following benefits:

  • Ensure the organization is adopting feasible, compatible backup procedures and facilities.
  • Identify areas in the plan that require modification.
  • Training your team to ensure they are well prepared to implement the plan.
  • Prove the value of your plan and the organization’s ability to withstand disasters.

Here are several types of disaster recovery plan tests you can employ:

  • Disaster recovery plan checklist tests
  • Parallel tests
  • Full interruption tests
  • Simulation tests

Before running the test, you should determine the criteria and procedures for testing your disaster recovery plan. After choosing a test, you should conduct a structured walk-through test or an initial dry run and correct any issues. Ideally, you should run this run dry outside normal business hours to avoid disrupting work.

Related content: Read our guide to disaster recovery plans

Types of Disaster Recovery Solutions and Services

Organizations may choose various DR strategies according to the infrastructure and assets they wish to protect and the backup and recovery methods they use. The scale and vision of an organization’s DR plan may require specific teams for departments like networking or data centers. Here are some examples of DR solutions:

Data Center Disaster Recovery

A data center DR strategy is essential for organizations that store their data in an on-prem data center. This strategy addresses the security of an organization’s physical and IT infrastructure in addition to the data backups. An important aspect of this strategy is a backup to a failover site at a secondary location. Organizations should document and devise methods and procedures when facilities-related issues affect electrical, heating/cooling, physical security, and fire safety systems.

Network Disaster Recovery

Network connectivity is vital to maintain communication, application access, and data sharing in a disaster. A plan to restore network services is an essential component of a network DR strategy. This strategy should emphasize access to backup data and sites.

Cloud Disaster Recovery

The rise of the cloud has attracted organizations that would have traditionally used a secondary physical location to host their DR. Cloud-hosted DR is an alternative that provides more than a simple cloud backup. A proper cloud DR strategy requires an IT team to implement automatic workload failover to a public cloud in the event of  a disaster.

Related content: Read our guide to disaster recovery in the cloud

Virtualized Disaster Recovery

A virtualized disaster recovery strategy replicates workloads to an alternative physical or cloud-based location. Virtualization offers flexibility and is fast, efficient, and easy to implement – a virtualized workload has a smaller IT footprint and allows for frequent replication and quick failover. Various data protection providers offer virtual backup and disaster recovery products.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)

DR as a Service is a cloud-based commercial service provided by a third party that replicates and hosts an organization’s virtual and physical servers. According to the service-level agreement (SLA), the provider is responsible for implementing and managing the DR strategy in the event of a disaster.

Related content: Read our guide to disaster recovery as a service

Built-In Data Protection for Disaster Recovery with Cloudian

Do you need to backup data to on-premises storage, as part of your disaster recovery setup? Cloudian offers a low-cost disk-based storage technology that lets you backup data locally with a capacity of up to 1.5 Petabytes. You can also set up a Cloudian appliance in a remote site and use our integrated data management tools to save data there.

on-premises backup target

Another deployment option is a hybrid cloud configuration. You can backup data to a local Cloudian appliance, then replicate to the cloud for DR purposes. This combines the low latency of local storage with the resilience of the cloud.

hybrid cloud disaster recovery

Learn more about Cloudian’s data protection solutions.

See Additional Guides on Key Information Security Topics

Together with our content partners, we have authored in-depth guides on several other data storage and information security topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of disaster recovery.

Incident Response

Authored by Cynet

Incident response is a set of practices you can use to detect, identify, and remediate system incidents and threats. It is an essential part of any comprehensive security strategy and ensures that you are able to respond to incidents in a uniform and effective way.

This article explains the phases of the incident response lifecycle, what an IRP is, what incident response frameworks exist, and how to build a CSIRT. It also covers some incident response services, and introduces incident response automation.

See top articles in our incident response guide:

Information Security Core Concepts

Authored by Exabeam

Information security (InfoSec) is critical to ensuring that your business and customer information is not manipulated, lost, or compromised. Information security practices can help you secure your information, ensuring that your secrets remain confidential and that you maintain compliance.

This article explains what information security is, introduces types of InfoSec, and explains how information security relates to CISOs and SOCs. It also covers common InfoSec threats and technologies, provides some examples of InfoSec strategies, and introduces common certifications earned by information security professionals.

See top articles in our information security guide:

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