A disaster recovery plan is the preparation of a strategy for restoring IT systems following an unexpected outage. The goal of disaster recovery planning, which is a component of business continuity, is to ensure that businesses can perform disaster recovery efficiently and return to normal operations as quickly as possible in the wake of a disruption. Disaster recovery planning also helps to minimize the cost of disruptions and the harm that they cause to the business's brand.
Disaster recovery plans can address any type of disruption, including equipment failures, cyber-attacks, power outages, accidental data deletion and any other event that could render an organization's IT systems and services unusable.
Recovering IT systems from major disasters often requires complex operations and the coordination of multiple stakeholders. Coupled with the fact that it is impossible to know when a disaster will occur or which form it will take, the complexity of recovery operations means that planning ahead is essential for restoring systems efficiently and quickly.
With a disaster recovery plan, businesses can minimize the risk that an unexpected disruption will cause significant financial harm or bring normal business operations to a standstill for a long time. In addition, recovery planning helps ensure that staff can return to their normal responsibilities as rapidly as possible in the wake of a disruption.
To develop an effective disaster recovery plan, businesses should:
- Designate a recovery team: Determine who will be responsible for helping restore systems and maintain business continuity after a disruption, and what each team member's specific responsibilities will entail. When formulating a recovery team, be sure to include not just IT experts who can perform system recovery, but also representatives of other parts of the business who have a role to play during recovery operations. For example, including a Public Relations representative helps ensure that the business can manage communications with the public about the anticipated duration of a disruption. Assigning a disaster recovery leader to oversee recovery operations and to make executive decisions is important, too.
- Evaluate and prioritize risks: Assess the systems and services that your business depends on and identify those that are most critical. You can then prioritize those assets when developing recovery plans. For example, recovering customer-facing applications hosted in a production environment is likely to be more important than recovering a dev/test environment, and this prioritization should be reflected in your recovery plan.
- Develop recovery plans and procedures: Once you know which systems you will need to recover and which ones to prioritize, develop recovery plans that spell out how your disaster recovery team will go about restoring systems. The plans should specify in as much detail as possible which technical procedures to follow to restore systems. Where possible, the plans may also include mitigation measures – such as disabling some services within a failed application to get the application back up and running, albeit with limited functionality – that your team can apply to reduce the impact of an outage while it works to achieve complete recovery. Be sure as well to plan for the possibility that normal communications systems will become unavailable during a disaster, requiring your team to have a fallback communications solution in place.
- Design and implement backups: Disaster recovery plans typically depend on the availability of backup data, which engineers can use to restore information lost during a disruption. Thus, you should determine which backups your team will require to implement its recovery plans, as well as how often your organization should perform backups to meet its recovery goals. The two key factors to consider in this regard are Recovery Time Objective (RTO), which identifies how long systems can remain non-operational following a failure, and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), which measures how much data loss your business can tolerate due to a disaster. The more stringent your RTO and RPO requirements, the more frequently you will need to perform backups.
- Test and optimize recovery plans: Disaster recovery plan testing is critical for ensuring that your recovery team can carry out recovery plans as intended. Testing also provides an opportunity to identify shortcomings, such as lack of clarity about how to perform a recovery process and address them before a real disaster strikes.
Given that it is impossible to know in advance exactly which types of disasters your business may encounter, there is no way to guarantee that your recovery plans fully address all potential disruptions. However, by following the procedures outlined above, businesses can prepare to address most disruptions in a way that minimizes the harm they cause.
With disaster recovery planning, businesses gain:
- Preset roles and processes that define who should do what during disaster recovery. By establishing these policies in advance of a disruption, organizations avoid having to waste precious time on formulating recovery plans during a disaster.
- The ability to determine ahead of time which systems and/or data to prioritize during disaster recovery to minimize the financial and operational impact of a disaster.
- Recovery plans that can be tested ahead of time to ensure they deliver the intended results, and to identify opportunities to improve or optimize recovery strategies.
- A plan for maintaining communication between stakeholders if normal communication channels, such as email or instant messaging systems, go offline.
VMware's suite of disaster recovery solutions helps organizations achieve these advantages. VMware NSX and VMware HCX make it easy to move, rebalance and migrate workloads within and across data centers and clouds with the simplicity of a network software overlay, improving the consistency, repeatability, and resilience of your applications. VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) automates complex recovery operations, helping teams to implement recovery plans as quickly and efficiently as possible. In addition, VMware Cloud Disaster Recovery offers a SaaS-based solution for planning and coordinating recovery operations across any type of major cloud architecture or environment.