Does your business have a disaster recovery plan?

Making your systems crisis-proof

You would be pretty worried if you didn't have fire safety and evacuation plans in your office, so why would you not put the same risk assessment strategy in place for your data?

Too many businesses don't have a disaster recovery (DR) plan, so my advice is to sit down and consider it pronto. Disaster recovery as a service (DraaS) or cloud-based DR strategies are now making data recovery plans far less complicated and highly efficient for UK businesses. But despite being able to re-think their DR plans in the cloud and make them so much easier, companies are still lax about testing the plan on a regular basis.

To put it into context, perhaps it's best to start by defining what a disaster could be. When we say 'disaster' often we mean something that is out of our hands. Floods, hurricanes power cuts and earthquakes all spring to mind.

However a disaster could be something as mundane as a software update or a simple human error. They're often not as newsworthy as a natural disaster but have just as much impact on an organisation's ability to operate.

Testing is key

One of the hurdles to most business continuity (BC)/DR plans is that regular testing, just like the office fire alarms, must occur to ensure the business is prepared should a disaster happen. A DR test is basically a fire alarm practice for your data recovery programme.

It ensures you can recover data, critical applications and get your business back on its feet quickly and efficiently. Communications, data recovery and application recovery are often the key focus to disaster recovery testing. The testing process enables companies to conduct planned maintenance and also train staff in disaster recovery procedures.

Traditionally tests have been complex and disruptive, and are far from popular. But a hybrid-cloud approach to DR has changed the testing landscape for the better.

The problem with disasters is they aren't planned and they are unexpected. If you aren't testing your DR plan frequently, you might find yourself hung out to dry when lightning strikes. Because DRaaS doesn't have the physical infrastructure and configuration synchronisation associated with traditional disaster recovery, there is no reason why tests can't be conducted frequently.

Hybrid solutions

A hybrid cloud-based solution combines public cloud and SaaS automation software to make DR continuity planning easier than ever. Cloud provides companies with data backup, fail-over of servers and the ability to have a secondary data centre at a different site to allow for regional disaster recovery.

With DRaaS solutions, there is also computing capacity on standby to recover applications if there is a disaster. This can be easily tested without impacting the production servers or unsettling the daily business routine.

A so-called 'sandbox' copy is created in the cloud which is only accessible by the system administrator. They are created on demand, paid for whilst being used and deleted once the test is complete. This makes testing simple, cost effective and does not disrupt the business.

There are financial benefits to cloud-based testing. Service providers regularly offer sliding scales for DR testing. Putting your DR solution in the cloud also means there isn't a redundant in-house infrastructure that is sitting unused most of the time.

Getting employees onside

According to a recent survey by market research company Enterprise Strategy Group, respondents using cloud-based DR services are four times more likely to perform weekly DR tests than those self-hosting their BC/DR solution.

One of the most challenging parts of a DR plan is to get employees to know what to do if an outage occurs. People learn by repetition, so just like fire drills we have to create practice DR drills, which are critical to a DR plan.

Companies who don't do these regularly should not be shocked if their employees don't respond appropriately and panic when disaster strikes. But you will still find more companies with self-hosting based DR services hoping for the best.

The stakes are high...

Taking these factors into consideration DRaaS testing is so easy, that businesses would be foolish not to carry out testing regularly. According to research group Aberdeen, the average number of disaster recovery events in 2012 was 3.5 per mid-sized organisation, with the average downtime per event being 3-4 days.

It estimated the cost of this downtime as a colossal $74,000 per hour! Put in these terms companies should sit up and listen.

The cloud gives small to medium-sized business the same capabilities that larger companies have had for years. This means that no company has an excuse today not to have a BC/DR plan in place and test it regularly. If you don't, your business could be flying too close to the sun.

  • Tony Craythorne is vice president of business development at Quorum. Tony has over 25 years of experience in developing fast growth sale channels in the USA.