At its core, an IT disaster recovery plan is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan that you put in place proactively to help guarantee that you’ll be able to resume normal business operations, regardless of the type of disaster scenario that you may one day face.
It’s a holistic, thoughtful and forward-thinking plan that accounts for everything – from how you’ll regain access to all of your data to how you’ll get hardware, software, networking equipment and other assets back online to power and connectivity situations and more.
Especially in the modern era that we’re now living in, businesses of all shapes, sizes and types rely on technology to function on a daily basis. Even those who aren’t explicitly in the “technology sector” rely on IT to function, to get work done, to collaborate and communicate with one another and to forge valuable relationships with their own clients. Think for a moment about what would happen if just one of these elements were suddenly unavailable to your enterprise. What type of damage would you ultimately sustain? Can you afford to suddenly lose access to your data due to a robbery, a fire or a cyber attack? Sure, you might be able to get back online with relative ease – but can you do so as quickly as your business demands in a stressful situation where literally every second counts?
IT disaster recovery is designed to help you address all of these questions and more in the easiest, most straightforward way possible. But to truly put together the right IT disaster recovery plan to meet your organization’s own unique needs, there are a number of important considerations that you’ll have to keep in mind.
Why IT Disaster Recovery Matters
If you had to create a list of all the reasons why IT disaster recovery is so critical to any organization, the two that would immediately rise to the top are as follows. First, IT downtime is not necessarily something you can ever truly eliminate. You can try as hard as you’d like, but when you’re talking about something as inherently fragile as technology, you are going to run into problems – even if your infrastructure is as strong as it can be. Therefore, you cannot remove risk from the equation – you can only take proactive steps to mitigate it as much as possible.
Secondly, regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry you’re operating in, the consequences of IT downtime are severe to say the least. According to one recent study conducted by Gartner, the average cost of IT-related downtime for an average organization is about $5,600 per minute. At the low end, this can equate to about $140,000 per hour. For an average organization, these costs come in at roughly $300,000 per hour. For a larger enterprise, costs could easily rise as high as $540,000 per hour.
Again, you need to keep in mind that these are just the immediate costs associated with lost productivity, hardware troubleshooting and fixes, and things of that nature. Depending on the work that you’re actually doing, overall costs can quickly balloon far higher. British Airways, for example, once suffered a system failure at their data center – and had to cancel more than 75,000 flights over a holiday weekend and reimburse stranded passengers roughly $68 million. A similar catastrophe struck Delta Air Lines in 2016, canceling 2,300 flights and inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of people.
The point of IT DR isn’t to eliminate the possibility of these types of situations happening to begin with. It’s to make sure that when a disaster does strick, you can get your entire operation back up and running again as quickly as humanly possible – all without losing so much as a kilobyte of mission critical data along the way.
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The Core Pillars of Any Viable IT DR Plan
When it comes time to actually sit down and create a viable disaster recovery plan moving forward, perhaps the most important thing for you to acknowledge is that there is no “one size fits all” plan for what you’re about to do. Every organization operates a little bit differently from the next – even those that would be considered close competitors. You all face different threats and certain actions have very specific consequences. For the best results, your disaster recovery plan should not be built with anybody else in mind. It needs to be created by taking a unique, holistic look inward at your own business and building things out in a very specific way from there.
Having said that, there are a number of core pillars that will help make sure you’re headed in the right direction, so to speak. Any IT DR planning session should begin with a deep and thorough analysis of ALL potential threats – along with the potential reactions to them.
In essence, you need to think about what specific actions could trigger an IT disaster situation in the first place – and come up with a specific solution aimed to address each one as thoroughly and as quickly as possible. If a cyber attack shuts down your data center for an afternoon, do you have a plan in place that will allow you to rebound from that? If a software update takes down 75% of the work machines in your office, do you know how you’re going to be able to keep things running? If a fire breaks out and your business burns to the ground, do you have a plan that will allow you to quickly recover in a secondary location?
These are the types of very precise scenarios that you need to be looking at for the best possible results moving forward. Yes, it’s true that some of these things are far more likely to occur than others – but it doesn’t matter. It’s better to have a plan and not need it than need a plan and not have it – never, under any circumstances, forget that.
Equally important is a business impact analysis, otherwise known as a BIA. In essence, you need to know what actual effects you’ll experience if certain natural or man-made events occur. If your data center goes down, you need to know more than just “your network is offline.” You need to look at things from every angle, taking into consideration factors that include but are not limited to the financial element, life and safety issues, regulatory, legal and contractual problems that you could encounter, a potential damage to your reputation and more.
Finally, any disaster recovery plan that you settle on must be A) continually tested and re-tested to help guarantee that it actually works, and B) communicated to absolutely everyone within an organization to help guarantee that people actually know what to do when the time comes. To the first point, experts agree that an untested plan is a failed plan – end of story. If you’ve never tested your plan in a controlled environment to help guarantee that it actually works in all the ways that you think it does, you’ll never be confident that it will perform the way you need it to when you need it the most. Testing and re-testing a plan not only helps eliminate any potential gaps that may have otherwise went undiscovered, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to take an already good plan and make it even stronger.
To the second point, even the most objectively perfect disaster recovery plan is ultimately meaningless if your people don’t know what role they play in which devastating situations. The plan must be written down, actionable and easily repeatable. Proper disaster recovery requires a true “all hands on deck” approach in order to be successful. Absolutely everyone within your organization is going to have an important role to play, but you can’t expect them to be ready to rise up and meet that challenge if they’re unaware of what that role is in the first place.
Because the Best Defense is Always a Good Offense
In the end, there are two key things to remember about the importance of IT disaster recovery in general. First, you are only as strong as your weakest link – as the old saying is quick to remind us. There is not a business currently operating on the face of the Earth that is totally immune to a potential IT disaster. You cannot control when it will occur – because it will. You can only control what your reaction will be in that most critical of moments.
Secondly, customer re-acquisition after a disaster (and following the catastrophic loss of reputation you will suffer) is incredibly expensive. If your response to an IT disaster isn’t perfect, you’re going to lose customers – and those people are probably never coming back, regardless of how hard you try.
Therefore, your own IT DR plan becomes the linchpin of your long-term efforts moving forward. Putting the right disaster recovery plan in place won’t just save you time and money today. It may very well be the key that saves your entire business tomorrow.
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