In June 2016, a quirky story caught the attention of the international press. A monkey had tripped a critical transformer at Kenya’s largest power station. This triggered a chain reaction that overloaded other generators and subsequently brought down power distribution in nearly the entire country. It plunged millions of businesses and homes into darkness.
When most people think about a disaster event, this kind of incident wouldn’t be the first to come to mind. Yet, for purposes of developing a data center disaster recovery plan (DRP) and implementing enterprise backup solutions, this otherwise amusing event is a disaster just like hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods. Disasters are not only characterized by widespread damage to infrastructure but, more importantly for businesses, they massively disrupt routine everyday processes.
Whereas some areas of the world are more predisposed to experiencing a higher frequency of certain types of natural events, no organization should consider itself immune to disaster. If it’s not a natural disaster, a company’s operations could grind to a halt following a power outage, massive fire, ransomware attack, terrorism, employee sabotage, or failed air conditioning.
Grim Statistics for the Unprepared
According to the National Archives and Records Administration, a staggering 93 percent of businesses that experience system downtime and data loss for 10 or more days are likely to file for bankruptcy within a year of the incident. Of course, downtime that runs into 10 days is a clear sign of an absent, untested, or ineffective data center disaster recovery plan.
FEMA reports that 2 in 5 small businesses never completely recover from a disaster. That’s partly because small businesses are less likely to have a tried and tested DRP when compared to larger corporations.
Therefore, every company needs a disaster recovery plan to prepare for such events if and when they do occur.
What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?
A disaster recovery plan seeks to quickly restore the operability of critical systems and applications after a catastrophic event. It’s the policies, procedures, and tools that ensure the continuation of vital technology services. The DRP blunts a disaster’s disruptive impact on technology infrastructure thus facilitating the smooth continuation of business operations.
Modern businesses are heavily dependent on IT to capture, process, manage, manipulate, transmit, and store data. Therefore, the DRP restores technology systems and data fast enough to meet the needs and expectations of business continuity.
Not all hardware, software, data sets, or data center processes are created equal. Some digital assets will always be more important in the running of enterprise operations. A DRP prioritizes the most important systems so that mission-critical business operations are quickly restored.
Difference Between Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans
The term business continuity plan is sometimes used interchangeably with DR plans. There’s an important difference though.
Business continuity is the overarching strategy that makes sure the organization can continue running despite a hugely disruptive incident. On the other hand, DR planning is a component of business continuity. It focuses on making sure the IT systems required to support critical business processes are available in the shortest time possible after the event.
The Benefits of a Data Center Disaster Recovery Plan
We’ve seen the general rationale of having a data center DRP. Let’s delve into the more specific benefits a business can expect to enjoy by creating a data center disaster recovery plan.
Downtime is expensive. Each additional minute of operational disruption translates into a concurrent drop in sales amidst rising customer disenchantment. For large enterprises, this could mean tens of millions of dollars in lost sales.
The primary role of a DRP is a speedy resumption of operations after an unexpected, destructive event. So, cutting downtime is the number one benefit. Where it would ordinarily take the business 12 hours to resume operations, a DR plan can drop this to just a couple of minutes.
The objectives of a disaster recovery plan fall into three broad categories: preventive, detective, and corrective. Preventive actions lower the risk of non-natural disasters, detective actions help identify unfolding disaster events in the shortest time while corrective actions restore data and systems to ensure business resumption.
For these three goals to be realized, they must be underpinned by a comprehensive analysis of threats, optimized well-maintained IT systems, and innovative cybersecurity solutions. These actions can of themselves save the business substantial support and maintenance expenditure over the long term.
Protecting Reputation and Fostering Customer Retention
We’ve seen the sobering statistic on how companies that failed to recover their systems and data within 10 days after a disaster eventually go out of business. The primary reason this happens is not operations challenges but irreparable damage to the company’s reputation. Customers, suppliers, partners, contractors, and employees will be reluctant to associate with an organization that seems rudderless, casual, and lackadaisical. The customer churn eventually reaches a critical point leading to the enterprise’s collapse. A DRP protects the organization’s reputation. An effective plan demonstrates a commitment to protecting customer data and maintaining service delivery despite the odds. This strengthens the business’ brand.
In the moments following a disaster, there’s chaos, confusion, and panic. In this melee, it’s easy for IT managers to make short-sighted wasteful kneejerk decisions that could have disastrous results on not just recovery prospects but also the organization’s long-term health. Every second counts and one of the critical roles of a disaster recovery plan is formalizing prioritization.
Thanks to the business impact analysis, IT executives can identify the data center processes that should be recovered first and devote efforts and resources to these in the immediate aftermath. Those processes that will be out of action for a long while can be addressed later. It removes guesswork and spontaneity by forcing the IT recovery team into a sequence of steps that will restore data center operations the fastest.
Valuable Knowledge for Business Use
Developing a DRP involves documenting and analyzing virtually every data center process. This process unearths invaluable insights of the company even in areas that aren’t necessarily related to data center disaster recovery. These include bottlenecks, single points of failure, duplicated processes, and wasteful expenditure.
Therefore, as the company develops the recovery plan from the impact analysis, it will also extract knowledge it could use to further tweak business processes to improve efficiency. A data center DRP is an opportunity to comprehensively examine everyday activities and explore how these can be made better.
Data is one of (if not the) most valuable assets of the modern enterprise. Nearly every business process relies on the capture, use, transmission and/or storage of data. Deploying a data center disaster recovery plan entails enacting procedures that keep sensitive business information safe when disaster strikes. Backups, redundant infrastructure, and staff cross-training are examples of mechanisms that ensure data is available almost immediately a primary site succumbs to a catastrophic event.
Improved Staff Productivity
A data center DRP cannot achieve much if it isn’t executed by skilled, competent personnel. It’ll be just another document collecting dust on office shelves. So, part of disaster recovery planning must include identifying the right personnel and assigning them the appropriate roles in advance.
Whereas the DRP is established in anticipation of a future catastrophic event, it harmonizes staff roles through cross-training. For example, planning would include having at least two IT staff having the capability of handling any one data center task. Such redundancy would come in handy even when a disaster isn’t involved (e.g. if one of the employees falls ill and has to spend weeks away from the office).
Setting up a Data Center Disaster Recovery Plan
Disasters aren’t always preceded by a forewarning nor are they always avoidable. Your best bet for surviving such an event having a data center DRP that will help minimize damage, quickly restore systems and ensure customers access services almost as usual.
Whereas the benefits of a data center DRP are clear, not just any plan will do. A well-planned and timely recovery plan can make the difference between the survival of the business and bankruptcy. Developing a recovery plan is not a one-off event. To ensure your staff, systems and data are safe and that your organization can resume operations within the shortest realistic time, regularly review and update the DRP. A review is an opportunity to factor the growth, changes, and realignments affecting your organization that has taken place since the last review. Given the especially breathtaking pace of technology changes today, a data center disaster recovery plan that was effective 5 years ago could be near obsolete today. Most important of all, the DRP should be tested regularly to confirm its effectiveness should it ever be invoked.
For more information, download our sample information technology disaster recovery plan.