Eight ingredients of an effective disaster recovery plan

IT executives and disaster recovery experts share their advice on how businesses can create an effective DR plan.

disaster recovery plan ts
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Earlier this month, a monkey caused a nationwide power outage in Kenya. Millions of homes and businesses were without electricity. Which just goes to show that “not all disasters come in the form of major storms with names and categories,” says Bob Davis, CMO, Atlantis Computing.

“Electrical fires, broken water pipes, failed air conditioning units [and rogue monkeys] can cause just as much damage,” he says. And while “business executives might think they’re safe based on their geographic location,” it’s important to remember that “day-to-day threats can destroy data [and] ruin a business,” too, he says. That’s why it is critical for all businesses to have a disaster recovery (DR) plan.

[ Related: A guide to disaster recovery planning ]

However, not all DR plans are created equal. To ensure that your systems, data and personnel are protected and your business can continue to operate in the event of an actual emergency or disaster, use the following guidelines to create a disaster plan that will help you quickly recover.

1. Inventory hardware and software. Your DR plan should include “a complete inventory of [hardware and] applications in priority order,” says Oussama El-Hilali, vice president of Products for Arcserve. “Each application [and piece of hardware] should have the vendor technical support contract information and contact numbers,” so you can get back up and running quickly.

2. Define your tolerance for downtime and data loss. “This is the starting point of your planning,” says Tim Singleton, president, Strive Technology Consulting. “If you are a plumber, you can probably be in business without servers or technology [for] a while. [But] if you are eBay, you can’t be down for more than seconds. Figuring out where you are on this spectrum will determine what type of solution you will need to recover from a disaster.”

“Evaluate what an acceptable recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) is for each set of applications,” advises says David Grimes, CTO, NaviSite. “In an ideal situation, every application would have an RPO and RTO of just a few milliseconds, but that’s often neither technically nor financially feasible. By properly identifying these two metrics businesses can prioritize what is needed to successfully survive a disaster, ensure a cost-effective level of disaster recovery and lower the potential risk of miscalculating what they’re able to recover during a disaster.”

“When putting your disaster recovery plan in writing, divide your applications into three tiers,” says Robert DiLossi, senior director, Testing & Crisis Management, Sungard Availability Services. “Tier 1 should include the applications you need immediately. These are the mission-critical apps you can’t do business without. Tier 2 covers applications you need within eight to 10 hours, even up to 24 hours. They’re essential, but you don’t need them right away. Tier 3 applications can be comfortably recovered within a few days,” he explains.

“Defining which applications are most important will aid the speed and success of the recovery. But most important is testing the plan at least twice per year,” he says. “The tiers might change based on the results, which could reveal unknown gaps to fill before a true disaster.”

3. Lay out who is responsible for what – and identify backup personnel. “All disaster recovery plans should clearly define the key roles, responsibilities and parties involved during a DR event,” says Will Chin, director of cloud services, Computer Design & Integration. “Among these responsibilities must be the decision to declare a disaster. Having clearly identified roles will garner a universal understanding of what tasks need to be completed and who is [responsible for what]. This is especially critical when working with third-party vendors or providers.  All parties involved need to be aware of each other's responsibilities in order to ensure the DR process operates as efficiently as possible.”

“Have plans for your entire staff, from C-level executives all the way down, and make sure they understand the process,” and what’s expected of them, says Neely Loring, president, Matrix, which provides cloud-based solutions, including Disaster-Recover-as-a-Service. “This gets everyone back on their feet quicker.”

“Protocols for a disaster recovery (DR) plan must include who and how to contact the appropriate individuals on the DR team, and in what order, to get systems up and running as soon as possible,” adds Kevin Westenkirchner, vice president, operations, Thru. “It is critical to have a list of the DR personnel with the details of their position, responsibilities [and emergency contact information].”

“One final consideration is to have a succession plan in place with trained back-up employees in case a key staff member is on vacation or in a place where they cannot do their part [or leaves the company],” says Brian Ferguson, product marketing manager, Digium

4. Create a communication plan. “Perhaps one of the more overlooked components of a disaster recovery plan is having a good communication plan,” says Mike Genardi, solutions architect, Computer Design & Integration. “In the event a disaster strikes, how are you going to communicate with your employees? Do your employees know how to access the systems they need to perform their job duties during a DR event? 

“Many times the main communication platforms (phone and email) may be affected and alternative methods of contacting your employees will be needed,” he explains. “A good communication plan will account for initial communications at the onset of a disaster as well as ongoing updates to keep staff informed throughout the event.”

“Communication is critical when responding to and recovering from any emergency, crisis event or disaster,” says Scott D. Smith, chief commercial officer at ModusLink. So having “a clear communications strategy is essential. Effective and reliable methods for communicating with employees, vendors, suppliers and customers in a timely manner are necessary beyond initial notification of an emergency. Having a written process in place to reference ensures efficient action post-disaster and alignment between organizations, employees and partners.”

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