Vince Lombardi, head coach of the Green Bay Packers NFL team, once said: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” The quote tells us that there will inevitably be setbacks and reversals in life, and the measure of one’s determination and resiliency hinges on what they do afterward, specifically to get back on your feet and keep going.
What does that have to do with disaster recovery? Well, every business and organization runs the risk of suffering a disaster at some point. It’s inevitable. Bad things happen, despite all measures taken to lessen the probability.
But the key lies in the company’s ability to recover from defeat, and that’s the quote’s point. A company bounces back from a staggering setback by having a successful disaster recovery plan. A well-thought-out, practical, comprehensive disaster recovery plan means the difference between getting knocked down and getting back up and getting knocked down and remaining down, bringing the organization to an end.
Today we’re exploring the concept of disaster recovery, what constitutes a disaster, what the term “disaster recovery” means, the types of recovery plans that exist, and the pillars that make a successful disaster recovery plan possible.
What Is Disaster Recovery?
Before we define disaster recovery, let’s go further back and define what constitutes a disaster.
A disaster is any event, foreseen or unforeseen, that can significantly put a business at risk by hampering its operations. Disasters can be natural, such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or man-made, like a power outage, fire resulting from carelessness, oil spill, or even a cyberattack. Not every such event is necessarily a disaster. For instance, if your business has a backup generator, a prolonged blackout becomes just an annoyance.
For a recent (and ongoing!) example of a full-fledged disaster, we only need to look as far as today’s news and read about the latest developments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some experts further classify disasters into un-forecasted events (“Who hacked into our systems?”) and forecasted events (“That weather report says the hurricane is heading right for us!”). Businesses can prepare for a forecasted event in the hopes of mitigating its effects.
However, disaster recovery is an organization's method of restoring normal operations and functionality to its IT infrastructure in the wake of a disaster by regaining access and functionality to power, connectivity, data, hardware, software, and network equipment. It’s a documented set of processes and procedures designed to prepare the company for the fastest recovery possible during a crisis or disaster.
Even businesses that maintain their IT resources off-site with cloud computing need a plan. That’s why Microsoft and Amazon, two of the biggest cloud providers on the market, have resources available for Azure disaster recovery and AWS disaster recovery, respectively.
What’s the Difference Between Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity?
If you search for the term “disaster recovery”, odds are you will often find it used in the same context as business continuity. Although some sources use the terms interchangeably, there is a significant difference.
Disaster recovery means bringing a company's IT resources back online and is part of an overall business continuity strategy.
Business continuity reflects a company’s preparedness in maintaining necessary functions after a disruption, disaster, or emergency. These situations cover:
- Equipment failure
- Natural disasters
- Power failure
- Security breaches
- Unexpected loss/departure of key personnel
So, while every disaster recovery plan is a single part of an overall business continuity strategy, the reverse isn’t true. Business continuity covers every aspect of the company, while disaster recovery deals with the IT aspect, which, granted, is crucial in our digital age.
Elements of a Disaster Recovery Plan
Here are the necessary elements, or pillars, of any successful disaster recovery plan:
Disaster Recovery Policy Statement
The statement spells out the plan’s goals and its general overview.
The Disaster Recovery Team
The recovery team consists of specialists responsible for developing, implementing, and managing its disaster recovery plan. This element also includes assigning the roles and responsibilities to each member and contacting fellow team members, other employees, customers, and vendors, if needed.
The team assesses potential hazards most likely to affect the organization and what resources and measures are needed to restore operations.
Business Asset Identification
The plan needs to identify every system, data, applications, and other resources with top recovery priorities, including listing the steps required for data recovery. For best results, the team should have diagrams of the whole network and the recovery site. Don’t forget to include directions to the site for personnel who should be on location.
The team must decide what needs to be backed up or relocated, who is in charge of backups, and how to do them. This stage should include a recovery point objective (RPO) that outlines backup frequency and a recovery time objective (RTO) that sets up the maximum allowable downtime following the disaster.
The recovery team needs an account of all systems, software, and license keys needed to implement the recovery. This list includes any technical documentation supplied by vendors and templates for various technology recoveries.
Optimization and Testing
The only thing constant in life is that nothing stays constant. So, the team should continually update and test their strategies to ensure that they are evolving apace of changing conditions in the organization and the world around it. For instance, as cyber-attack methods grow more involved and sophisticated, the organization’s recovery from a security breach should allow for the possibility of more extensive damage and tailor the recovery accordingly.
This final step of the disaster recovery plan covers a handful of minor elements such as engaging with the media, insurance coverage plans and summaries, and contingency plans for dealing with any ensuing legal and financial issues.
Types of Disaster Recovery Plans
Every business and organization has its specific needs, so no one plan fits all. Fortunately, there are a variety of methods to choose from. Your business can even combine some of them. Again, it depends on the organization’s situation.
This plan is the easiest and most straightforward. IT teams back up all needed data on a removable drive and store it off-site. However, this is the bare minimum effort and doesn’t protect the IT infrastructure itself.
Backup as a Service
With all the different cloud services available today (SaaS, IaaS, etc.), is this one any surprise? BaaS is like the standard “Backups” method, except that a third party backs up and stores the data.
A cold site is a little-used secondary facility, maintained by the business, that houses a backup IT infrastructure. The site provides a dedicated workplace for employees in the event of a disaster. However, cold sites don’t usually have current copies of essential data.
Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)
Here’s another cloud-based recovery service, ideal for ransomware attacks and general disasters. The DRaaS providers transfer the affected company’s entire computer processing onto its cloud infrastructure, assuring uninterrupted operation from the vendor’s location.
The hot site is a more involved and expensive version of the cold site. In this case, hot sites have everything the cold site has, but with the added bonus of up-to-date copies of relevant company data.
The instant recovery method is similar to the point-in-time snapshots covered below, but in this case, the snapshot is of the whole virtual machine.
Point-in-time snapshots are also called point-in-time copies and involve making a copy of the entire database at a particular time. The data can then be restored from this copy, assuming the information is stored off-site or on an unaffected virtual machine.
Companies can back up certain data, operations, or a working copy of an organization’s whole IT computing environment on off-site virtual machines. Virtualization also lets businesses automate some of their disaster recovery processes, thereby bringing everything back online faster. However, virtualization requires the frequent transfer of data and workloads to be effective.
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Do You Want to Become a Cloud Solutions Architect?
Since the IT world is increasingly relying on the cloud, it’s reasonable to predict that cloud computing will play a more significant role in disaster recovery. Cloud solutions architects are poised to play a vital role in disaster recovery, in addition to their regular duties of designing and maintaining cloud platforms and solutions.
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