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Tips for Disaster Recovery Planning

(Part 1 of 2)

1. Getting Started
Typically the first step of getting started with business continuity planning (BCP) is to organize the BCP stakeholders and get executive buy in to the concept. There are several exercises moving through this process and it all depends on the level of executive support you have for this type of program, and how much you have to sell them on the concept. It is important to be prepared, as you will need to cost justify by presenting some number that identifies the cost of downtime and how much company revenue is at risk if business systems become unavailable for an extended period of time.

2. Why You Need a Plan
This is really the easy part. We all know why we need a business continuity plan; to prevent extended period of outages that will cost the company money. The number one priority of any business continuity plan is protecting the most valuable assets, the health and safety of the employees. The second priority, but equally as important, is the rapid recovery and or restoration of business critical systems. If you have ever had your messaging system go down for any period of time you likely received a call from an executive pretty quickly wondering why they aren’t receiving any BlackBerry messages.

3. Defining the Right Plan
This primarily starts with understanding what keeps your business running and prioritizing the recovery of different systems that are most critical. This is usually conducted in the risk analysis and business impact study and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to pull this together. It is highly likely you already know and could create this list in your sleep.

4. Top Mistakes Made
There are many mistakes that are made when preparing for business continuity planning, and the most common is not allowing enough time to identify, plan or prepare for the design, implementation and/or exercise of the system. Regularly exercising or testing the business continuity plan can be, and often is, the most costly mistake. Just because you have successfully implemented recovery and restoration procedures doesn’t mean you are done. Every time a system update or change control process is initiated the business continuity plan should be re-tested to see if it has been impacted and still functions as designed. Do not skimp on exercising your business continuity plan just because you can’t seem to find the downtime. This is where using a virtualization platform, such as Microsoft Hyper-V is extremely helpful as you can spin up a virtual disaster recovery target and test without impacting the actual production system. This is accomplished through the virtualization technology that allows the machines to be segmented from the production network and create a virtual DR test bed.

5. Real Life Lessons

Over the past nine years I have been either directly or indirectly involved with over 1,600 business continuity implementations, and there was always something to learn with each scenario. One such situation was planning a backup for the backup. During a disaster recovery implementation for over 70 virtual servers, the batteries of the UPS (that was the backup power supply for the datacenter) ended up exploding. Because the main power supply ran through the UPS, it took out the power to the entire datacenter and about 40 servers that were offline. Luckily we had just finished the implementation, but hadn’t actually completed the exercise training so we had to do it as a live test. Thanks to the brilliant engineers I work with and the fact we had implemented these solutions a few hundred times, we were able to bring up all the business critical systems at a disaster recovery facility within fifteen minutes. Hazmat was called to begin cleaning up the contents of the exploded batteries in the datacenter, and we were able to recover all the data center operations to the original data center about 5 days later. This shows that even though you have a backup plan, you don’t necessarily have a backup.

More Stories By Mike Talon

Mike Talon is a technology professional living and working in New York City. Having worked for companies from individual consult firms through Fortune 500 organizations, he’s had the opportunity to design systems from all over the technological spectrum. This has included day-to-day systems solutions engineering through advanced Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning work. Currently a Subject Matter Expert in Microsoft Exchange technologies for Double-Take Software, Mike is constantly learning to live life well in these very interesting times.

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