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There's More Than One Way to Get Your Disaster Recovery Plan

The call came at 6 a.m. "Our system crashed and we cannot get it restarted." That call woke Bill Brown out of a sound sleep, and it would be four days before he would sleep normally again.

Fortunately for Bill's customers, this situation is an extremely rare occurrence. In this case, the client company had a scheduled backup every night of the week, including Sunday, an unattended backup with a detailed log of the results provided on a daily basis. The full system was backed up each night.

So what went wrong? The only action requiring human intervention was not completed properly. Each day the tape needed to be changed. The backup was successful on Thursday night, so the tape should have been removed on Friday morning, but was not. So, Thursday's tape was used on Friday night, and again was successful. On Saturday morning the tape should have been changed, but it did not get switched.

Sometime on Saturday, the primary disc drive began to fail. Saturday night, the system attempted a backup and failed because the drive was already failing. The only good backup was Wednesday night's.

In a large operation such as this, there is no good way to re-enter all the data updates, changes and postings which occur over a three day period. In this instance, most of the data from the intact primary database file could be restored, but the recovery process took four to five days based on the piece-meal process required.

Can your company wait four days to get back online? This disaster was totally avoidable if the business continuity plan had been attended to. In this case, fortunately, all of the data was recovered, but not all disasters end up with so favorable a result.

Most businesspeople today agree that a disaster recovery plan is essential for every business, whether large or small. Do you have one? Is it up to date? If you backup fails tonight, do you and your staff know what to do tomorrow morning? Even if you want to say yes, take a moment now to review your disaster recovery procedures. Does everyone know their part? Is everything written down? Has it been tested recently?

If you are hesitating in your answers, you need to commit to preparing/updating your disaster recovery plan right now. Remember that it is more than just arranging for a separate facility and equipment for your staff. You must take steps to ensure you do not lose customers, that your customers know what is going on and how long it will be before you are back to normal. You must assure that the world at large does not lose confidence in your company or its senior managers, because that will surely lead to loss of customers, as well.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that disasters can affect only your facility and business. What would you do if one of your key vendors had a disaster? Do you keep enough of this vendor's product in-house to allow you to continue to do business for several months? Or do you rely on weekly shipments to keep your operation going? For your own protection, you should be discussing contingency planning with every organization with whom you do business.

Now, before you decide how to prepare your disaster recovery plan, it is important to consider the following:

Know where your business is vulnerable; this is commonly referred to as "risk assessment" or "risk analysis". You must identify and minimize your exposure to problems that threaten your operation. Do you rely on one salesperson to generate most of your new business? What kinds of adverse weather conditions could affect your facility? Are you located in an area where businesses are regularly targeted by burglars or vandals? You cannot address disaster recovery until you identify the potential disastrous events.

Make the commitment to the business continuity planning process, and make sure employees at all levels share that commitment. This may sound too obvious to mention, but we all know of businesses that have been devastated by a disaster they never saw coming. The tendency in most businesses is to place a low priority on disaster recovery planning, even today, assuming the worst will never happen. Other businesses make the mistake of believing that because they back up their data every night, no further disaster recovery planning is needed.

Don't minimize the planning process and don't expect one single individual to be able to handle the whole project, unless your operation is extremely small.

So you know you need a disaster recovery plan, or you need to update your existing plan, and you've made the commitment. There are three ways to proceed: (1)Appoint someone on your staff to do the job; (2)Purchase one of the software programs on the market which will guide you or your employee through the job; or (3)Hire an outside specialty firm to do the job.

The Good and Bad of Each Approach

If you appoint someone on your staff to prepare/update your disaster recovery plan, you will enjoy the complete security of knowing all the information gathered during this process will stay in-house. Confidentiality can be preserved much more easily. Also, other employees may be more willing to cooperate with someone they already know.

However, the person you appoint may not have the expertise to complete the task, which demands outstanding organization skills, attention to detail, and intimate knowledge of every aspect of company operation. This individual may also suffer from a time crunch, trying to fit the task into the existing workload. Preparing and enforcing contracts with other companies who will provide certain services and facilities in the event of a disaster requires negotiating skills and a level of corporate authority which your chosen person may not possess.

You can purchase an over-the-counter software program which will guide you or your employee through the process of preparing a plan, circumventing the problem of lack of knowledge or experience. The software is no more difficult to use than any other product and can be tailored to your needs. Here again, your confidentiality is assured, because you will be relying on internal personnel to complete your plan.

However, no matter how complete the software appears to be, it may not contain everything you need to organize a plan that is complete and applicable to your particular business. The last thing you want is to find out your plan has holes in it while you're trying to recover from a disaster.

The third alternative is to hire an outside, specialty firm to complete your disaster recovery plan. While you will be giving a great deal of sensitive information to this firm, they will be prohibited from revealing it by a confidentiality agreement, which is standard procedure in this situation.

The biggest advantage to hiring an outsider is that they will see potential flaws in your plan where you will not. They have also been trained to do disaster recovery only, as a profession; you may even be able to hire a certified business continuity specialist, who has higher education and credentials in the field.

The down side is, of course, giving up control of this sensitive undertaking to people you hardly know, unless your best friend happens to be a disaster recovery expert. However, take comfort in the fact that the firm you hire has performed this service for many companies before yours. Their approach to the task will be professional and straight to the point, saving you time and, therefore, money.

How To Do It On Your Own

Your first step after identifying your business vulnerabilities is to design and circulate a survey to department heads. The survey must be neither too long nor too short. It should encourage your department heads to consider exactly how they could continue to operate after the unthinkable happens.

Once the surveys are returned to you, sort through to make sure they are complete. Get back to the department heads with any questions or concerns; you may need to insist they spend this extra time on the task. In fact, one of the most frustrating parts of preparing a plan is convincing people that their portion and any corrections/changes must be completed in a timely manner.

When it comes time to writing the plan, it is best to follow an outline. There are several web sites that offer a comprehensive outline of a good disaster recovery plan. Why reinvent the wheel if you don't have to? At the end of this article, you will find useful links.

Once you have a first draft of the plan, it is time to submit it to senior management for their review and approval. This will take more time, and you may have more dfficulty in getting senior managers to make the time for this task.

Approval of the actual plan is not the final step, however. After approval, make sure department heads receive a copy of the overall plan. Then make sure they understand their individual department plan.

Now it's time for testing. This is another time-consuming task, setting up the time for the test, communicating that time to everyone in the company so they will be prepared, then staging the test and evaluating the results.

How to Choose the Right Disaster Recovery Software

If you elect to purchase a software package to assist you in preparing your disaster recovery plan, you will have quite a few from which to choose. The process of selecting one should be no different than the way you consider any other software purchase.

Make a list of what you want the software to accomplish for you. Then look at what's out there. Don't be afraid to ask for references from any company you are considering, and check with those references. The newest software by an unknown company may appear complete, but without a proven track record, it's basically an unknown. For an application as important as disaster recovery, you need a more stable, proven product.

Don't neglect to learn how much support you will receive after the sale of the software. If the package is complete, you should need minimum support, of course, but the unexpected does happen. If you have no one to call with questions or concerns, you will have wasted your money.

The process after you purchase the software is pretty much the same as that outlined above. Using the forms/templates provided within the software, you will gather the information from the department heads, put the recovery plan together, obtain approval from senior management, then test the plan. You will be saving time, however, by not having to develop your own department surveys or having to do all the initial research into what, exactly, constitutes a good disaster recovery plan.

Hiring An Outside Firm

If you prefer to have a professional firm handle the preparation of your disaster recovery plan, beginning to end, there are certain guidelines to follow here, as well. They are, however, not different from how you would hire any other vendor or service provider for your company.

Research the companies that are providing this service, and choose the top three to five that offer the best fit for your company. Ask for bids, and don't forget to ask for references that include current clients. Check those references as carefully as you would any other, especially if you're talking to a relatively young company.

Once you hire a firm and they agree to provide your plan, communicate to the rest of your staff the importance of the disaster recovery plan. Stress that the firm you have hired has your complete confidence and support, and you expect everyone to cooperate to the fullest with the firm's representatives. This is an essential step, because your employees may be very unwilling to share information with an outsider.

As part of the contractual agreement between your company and the disaster recovery firm, the disaster plan will be submitted to your senior management and tested, and the results communicated to you. For an additional fee, the firm may come back to you at regular intervals to update the plan.

No matter how you elect to prepare your disaster recovery plan, the most important thing is not to leave yourself and your company twisting in the wind if the worst should happen. Address your recovery issues today, and your business will move forward without interruption for years to come, no matter what else is going on in the world.

Business Continuity Planning Model by DRJ.com

The best place to start when creating or revising a disaster recovery plan is with an outline, and this is one of the most comprehensive. Besides the quality of the outline, if you register with the site, you will gain access to all the fantastic background articles that link to the outline.

Small and Medium Size Business Guide to a Successful Continuity Program

Even if you're not officially classified as a small or medium size business, this article is worth your time. Besides giving practical advice about business continuity, it offers estimated times to complete each task, allowing you to calculate a cost for preparing and testing your recovery plan.

 

 
 

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