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Health Check For Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Just as a health checkup can point out areas where your body is not operating at its peak, your Disaster Recovery Plan needs a regular review to make sure your IT systems and staff are fully prepared for any disaster that may occur.

Industry Perspectives

March 10, 2011

5 Min Read
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Richard Dolewski is Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Business Continuity Services for WTS. Richard is a certified systems integration specialist and disaster recovery planner and is recognized as an expert in business continuity for IBM iSeries and i5 environments.

Richard Dolewski

Richard Dolewski

If you’re over 30, you know that regular medical check-ups are key to staying healthy and to early detection of any serious medical conditions. If you’re in IT, you know that having a fully tested Disaster Recovery Plan in place is vital to the health of your business. Just as a health checkup can indicate whether your body is operating at full capacity, your Disaster Recovery Plan needs a regular review to make sure you are fully prepared for any disaster that may occur.

Perform A Checkup On Your DR Plan

Has your Disaster Recovery Plan had a recent checkup? How often should IT perform a health check on a DR Plan? To ensure business continuity, it should be a minimum of twice a year, and more if major infrastructure changes occur. Many companies build their DR Plan, perhaps test it annually, and store it on a shelf or somewhere out in the network. And most companies get caught off-guard when disaster strikes because simple routine plan maintenance was not performed. Rather than developing pro-active solutions for such an event, most IT departments prioritize other corporate deliverables and never get around to planning for emergencies. Just like untreated medical conditions, unplanned disaster scenarios can be lethal to your company’s health.

The first question always asked after the smoke clears is "how could the disaster have been avoided?" The second is "how could we have been more prepared?" The answers are simple. If you had kept your Disaster Recovery Plan tested and up-to-date, things would have turned out better and IT disaster could have been averted. It really is that simple.

If you’re looking for a diagnostic test for that DR Plan check-up, here are some practical suggestions to get you started:

Keep your plan current: The plan was accurate the day it was written, so every change that’s happened -- from a new employee to new hardware or software -- makes your plan that much less effective. Be sure to update your current plan with any recent changes.

Book a test date: Testing your plan is critical to implementing your recovery. Even if your DR plan is updated but not exercised regularly, it will be forgotten. Key stakeholders need to be comfortable accessing, referencing and executing the details of the plan. Testing allows staff to be familiar with the document, thus making your primary stakeholders comfortable with following the plan in a non-crisis setting.

Basic routine exercises. You should perform some practical exercises and Q&A’s to ensure your DR plans will be fully operational when you need them. Perform a call tree exercise to make sure it’s in working order. Are the phone numbers current? Are the people still with you? How do you access your offsite data? Are the stated Recovery Point and Recovery Time objectives still valid? Who is the DR plan co-coordinator? Are they still with you?

Contact Information. Ensure you have updated name lists, contact information and clearly understood work functions. Who are the primary, secondary and emergency contacts? Do we have everyone’s updated contact information? Do you know how to contact key providers and government agencies? Roles of staff members keep changing and there is nothing worse then chasing down an individual who is no longer or never was responsible for a specific role.

Check your conference bridges: This should be done frequently. Don’t find out that someone cancelled the service because it was perceived as not required by accounting or because it was seldom used (remember the old adage …what works today may not tomorrow). Ensure you have capacity on the bridge to support the number of people that may call in.

Check your vendor contact information. Their employees change as well. Ensure you can reach these suppliers outside of regular business hours. What works 9 - 5 may not work on the long weekend.

How about testing those generators. If your company has invested in a generator, test the generator under full load (with all equipment running). Testing under reduced load is like taking a car out for a test drive by simply starting it and never leaving the dealer lot.

Make sure your backup strategies reflect the critical nature of your data. Recovery of your systems cannot even be started if infrastructure and data backups are incomplete. Examine your backup policies to ensure they have kept pace with all recent changes. Revisit your backups, often.

Distribute your plan: The complete DR Plan must be distributed to your Plan holders. If your name is in the plan, then you are a plan holder. Everyone must be able to access their plan immediately when called upon. The plans must be maintained by the plan coordinator and available to everyone, with minimal manual intervention required.

Complete: The plan must be detailed enough to pass the document over to any business or IT professional with the expectation that they’ll be able to recover your servers with no additional input. The plan must spell out each and every step so it can be followed like a recovery roadmap. This assumes no previous knowledge or any requirement to read between the lines. It’s a mistake to rely on specific individuals during a disaster, as they may be simply unavailable. The plan must be able to stand on its own.

Comprehensive: The plan must support all critical aspects of your business. It must cover all technological hardware platforms, business processes and network recovery elements required to meet today’s business objectives. Both technical recovery and management aspects must be clearly outlined.

Does your company have a comprehensive Disaster Recovery Plan that would allow your business to function in the event of a disaster? Now that you have a diagnostic check-list, be sure to set an appointment with your DR Plan. Review all the elements of your plan and make sure it performs to the rigors of your diagnostic test. Only by testing the patient thoroughly can you guarantee recovery success. In the event of a disaster, your business depends on IT.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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