If you read a major disaster (that led to downtime) in the news and thought it couldn't happen to you, you would be dead wrong. It doesn't matter whether your business is big or small; there is always the potential for disaster to strike when you least expect it.
From natural disasters to manufactured calamities, ascertaining your preparedness, and making changes accordingly is vital to uptime, normal operations, and business continuity. In this scenario, you have to create a robust disaster recovery plan (DRP) that covers every conceivable situation.
For example, your DRP must include potential disasters like earthquakes, floods, fire, and other scenarios like power outages, failover malfunction, cyber-attacks, ransomware and malware attacks, human error, and even geopolitical threats in the region.
As the stakes are higher than ever before, businesses must have a plan in place to recover from every worst-case scenario imaginable. Once you develop the DRP, you must also test it to ensure that it's watertight and ready to be activated during an unfortunate event.
What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?
An IT disaster recovery plan (or IT DR plan) describes a group of established procedures and tools that can be implemented during a catastrophic event. This set of recovery processes helps businesses respond quickly to significant disruptions.
As your staff knows precisely how they should react to a particular disaster, they can quickly prevent further damage and initiate rapid recovery protocols. This approach helps organizations narrow down their focus, prioritize risks and assets, and identify the best way to recover and return to normal operations.
For example, DRP is critical to overcoming data disasters and minimizing server downtime. However, it also further addresses compliance risks, stakeholder concerns, and much more.
Key benefits of a disaster recovery plan include:
- Continued operations even when physical locations are inaccessible
- Ensure regulatory compliance (CCPA, GDPR, HIPAA, SOC 2, etc.)
- Minimum downtime
- Negate the need to pay a ransom
- Secure customer data
- Uninterrupted communication with customers, employees, and vendors
With an effective DRP, your business will continue to operate even if there's a fire and the building remains inaccessible for a few weeks. The same is true when threat actors compromise networks or there's a natural disaster that makes commuting impossible. The same is true during a potential terrorist attack.
Before creating an IT DR plan, you must make an effort to understand how staff will communicate, where and how they will keep working, and what technologies they will use to ensure business as usual. These details can vary, and disaster recovery team members must analyze and determine the best way forward.
When formulating a DRP, you can't ignore any related elements. Whether it's physical, technological, or associated with human resources, your approach to disaster recovery must include everything.
An effective DRP should also be readily available and easily understandable because a potential disaster can displace staff or prevent them from assisting each other.
What Are the Key Elements of a Disaster Recovery Plan?
DRPs have many different features, but most share the common elements listed below:
What is your primary objective? What do you hope to accomplish with your DRP? Your responses to these questions should include data loss maximums, downtime maximums, recovery points, and recovery time.
How will you access and restore the data backup? Is the recovery team responsible for this process? Will your backup and replication and data storage site remain on-site, or will you leverage cloud backups?
Where and how will you back up and store your data safely? It's critical to provide clear instructions on the secondary (offsite) data center location(s).
At a macro-level, how will your organization respond to a catastrophic event? How will the organization limit damage and perform any emergency backup procedures?
Recovery Point Objective (RPO)
How much data loss can you afford during recovery efforts? You need to have a reasonably accurate answer to the question to determine the frequency of your data backups.
Recovery Time Objective (RTO)
The amount of time can you afford to be offline before losing customers and revenue is critical. In this case, it's important to have a realistic time estimation for the resumption of normal operations.
During an active disaster, you can't afford to waste a second. As such, it's vital to assign responsibilities to everyone involved in the DRP. Highlight who is responsible for what actions to avert potential disruptions and ensure business continuity.
What steps and procedures do staff need to follow to restore lost data or IT systems and reestablish normal operations?
Make an extensive list of all hardware and software assets that form your enterprise IT infrastructure. Learn how these systems and tools are used and determine if they are deemed critical to business operations.
As the adage goes, "practice makes perfect." Regularly testing your DRP is critical to ensure that actions will be fulfilled during an actual disaster.
7 Critical Steps to Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan
Step 1. Conduct a Risk Analysis and Audit Your IT Resources
Cybersecurity threats are higher than ever before, so it's vital to conduct a risk assessment while auditing your IT resources. You must know what IT resources power everyday business processes and the cybersecurity threats that can bring them to a halt.
When disaster strikes, you must be prepared, so it's important to create an extensive list of critical systems and figure out your data protection protocols. You can prioritize your list by conducting a business impact analysis.
It also helps to inventory all IT resources on your network and what data each resource holds or has access to. In this case, you may find data sets that aren't business-critical or redundant data. This approach can help reduce the size of backup files, streamline resources, and accelerate back up and restore protocols.
During this phase of the exercise, it's best to engage all stakeholders. This approach also allows you to address their concerns and formulate a DRP that ensures every department stays up and running during an emergency.
Step 2. Classify Critical Operations
Make a list of critical operations that compliment your business continuity plan. This can be anything like products and services provided to customers, operations at specific locations, and so on.
It's crucial to understand present vulnerabilities and the changes needed to complement your data recovery strategy. Again, engage different stakeholders and business leaders to ensure that you have the whole picture when it comes to threats faced by individual departments.
Step 3. Brainstorm Different Disaster Scenarios
Think about potential disaster scenarios and their impact on business operations. For example, ask yourself what you would need to do if your business had to relocate because of a natural disaster. In the same vein, think about a ransomware attack. What would you do if all your files were encrypted and held for ransom?
There isn't a one-size-fits-all DRP, so you have to exert considerable effort thinking about every possible "what if" scenario. It's important because the way a business responds to a cyber-attack and a natural disaster will be very different.
This approach also helps disaster recovery teams determine recovery objectives and come up with a realistic recovery timeline for when disaster strikes.
Step 4. Create a Comprehensive Communication Plan
It's important to make the disaster recovery process as painless as possible. As such, communication is key to successful DR operations.
If your communication plan includes several people across departments, it will further complicate the process. This makes it crucial to devise a communication plan that only consists of a few team members that represent multiple departments.
It's also a good idea to have a backup plan in case an emergency adversely affects your regular communication channels. Include all emergency contact information and any personnel necessary to set your DRP in motion.
In the event of a data breach, you'll need to communicate with customers and stakeholders. So, have contact information ready for public relations professionals and regulatory communications specialists.
Step 5. Assign Key Roles and Responsibilities
During an emergency, you have to act fast. Knowing who is responsible for what helps save time and enables rapid response. While you assign responsibilities, make sure to include information about who should communicate (and with whom) in the event of a disaster.
Step 6. Establish a Post-Disaster Evaluation
Set up a post-disaster follow-up to learn from your experience. Whether it was a test or a real-world disaster, you can learn a lot from experience and tweak your DRP as necessary. This approach ensures that you never repeat the same mistakes again.
Step 7. Test, and Test Again!
Once your DR plan is ready, you must make sure that it works as intended. However, testing it just once isn't enough. It's best to regularly put your DRP to the test to keep your disaster recovery team trained and ready for an emergency.
When developing your DRP test, consider the following:
Single Points of Failure
Which systems lack redundancy in your recovery plan? If there was a problem with your single points of failure, were you able to continue with the DRP?
How long does it take to restore the bare minimum functionality after the test starts? How long does it take to return to normal operations? What are your recovery times? Can you make it faster? If so, how?
Did you experience any data loss when you switched over to a remote or cloud backup? How much? If there was data loss, was it critical to any of your operations? This approach is vital to verifying recovery points to avert potential data loss during an actual catastrophe.
Type of Disaster Simulation
Does your DRP test assume that network data is already corrupted or inaccessible because of damage to the physical data center? It's important to consider different types of disasters and how they impact recovery options and speeds.
By regularly conducting realistic drills at least every six months, you'll see how staff perform their roles and responsibilities.
If they perform consistently, you can be sure that you have a robust disaster recovery plan that reflects the company's current state. Whenever you identify gaps in your plan, act immediately to strengthen your DRP.