Disaster recovery 101: What you need to know

Some good starting points for those new to the discipline

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With various parts of the country still reeling in the wake of tornadoes, earthquakes, too-early snowstorms, hurricanes and wildfires, the past few months have taught us that no geographical area is safe. There's never been a more compelling time to develop or fine-tune a disaster recovery and business continuity plan for your business.

Disaster recovery is, quite simply, being able to continue your mission-critical business operations after an interruption of some kind. Companies must be able to resurrect their applications and processes -- their entire business operations -- at the point where they were before the outage occurred, says Robert Amatruda, research director for data protection and recovery at IDC. And this is true whether the outage resulted from a natural disaster, a server or storage system malfunctioning or "someone pulling a plug they shouldn't have," he says.

While business continuity is about being able to keep functions going, disaster recovery means being able to get everything back to whole again, explains Carl Pritchard, senior risk management consultant at advisory firm Cutter Consortium. "The difference is business continuity is keeping the patient alive. Disaster recovery is getting them back to being healed and walking again," says Pritchard, who is also the author of Risk Management: Concepts and Guidance, 4th Edition.

And if you think it won't happen to you, think again, Pritchard says. "At some point, no matter what aspect of life you look at, the walls come crashing down around you. People with a business continuity plan and disaster recovery plan have the ability to get back to a semblance of normalcy in a much shorter span of time than those without."

Preparedness varies

But many small and midsize businesses are not prepared for a disaster. According to a 2011 SMB disaster preparedness survey commissioned by Symantec, 57% of respondents in small businesses do not have a plan in place to deal with an outage or disruption to their computer or technology resources, compared with 47% of midsize businesses.

There is more encouraging news among larger enterprises; in 2010, 66% reported having a recovery site for their data center and IT operations in the event of a disaster or other primary site failure, while 30% said they have more than one recovery site, according to a recent report by Forrester Research. Yet, the same report also noted that disaster recovery budgets have "declined sharply" since the global economy began a downturn in 2008.

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