Preparing for the unexpected may seem like a no-brainer, but not enough businesses plan for the worst. According to a study, more than one-third of SMEs in the U.S. don’t have a disaster recovery plan in place, despite the fact that 60% of the participants in the same study experienced some form of data loss or theft in the last 12 months.
If you think disaster recovery is only relevant to the biggest companies, think again. In truth, businesses of all sizes need a disaster recovery plan to minimize risk and successfully manage downtime.
You might be wondering: what should an IT disaster recovery plan include? In this article, we break down the five key elements of a DR plan, as well as key insights as to why you need one in the first place.
IT Disaster Recovery: What It Is, And Why You Need It
Businesses will always have looming threats, whether it’s downtime, communication problems, or natural disasters. Anything from hardware malfunction to malware infection can lead to costly business interruption.
When these things happen, a disaster recovery plan is your organization’s guide to restoration and continuity in the time of an emergency. Putting together a disaster recovery plan that minimizes your losses and allows you to start-up your network protects your business from significant issues and costs.
What Is A Disaster Recovery Plan?
An IT disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a set of specific procedures, protocols, and documentation necessary for recovering business in case of a disaster. Not every business will be severely affected by downtime, so the scope of your disaster recovery plan depends on your organizations’ needs and operations.
For instance, a bank operating an online portal will require a more comprehensive DRP compared to a clothing e-commerce store. While both depend on consistent connectivity and access for customers, banks have to ensure that customers’ financial information is protected from malicious attacks, on top of standard recovery procedures.
What Counts As A Disaster?
Disasters don’t always have to be earth-shattering and ground-breaking to disrupt your business. Think of disasters as serious interruptions in your business performance that can shut down your communications, network, supply chain, or even lead to data loss.
Here are six different types of disasters your business should prepare for:
Common cyber attacks include email phishing, ransomware, and social engineering, all of which typically target low-level employees and unprotected devices. In the case of cyberattacks, an educational training system across all employee levels is just as important as a multi-layer cybersecurity network. Ensuring that you have a backup of all crucial applications and data is useful in protecting yourself from cyberattacks, especially ransomware.
2) Vendor-Supported Issues
Hosting your network and data centers, whether virtually or physically, through a service provider isn’t always a foolproof plan. In 2019, Oracle encountered an issue concerning a zero-day vulnerability in the WebLogic Server, which allowed attackers to install ransomware even without user authentication.
In this case, preparing a DRP ensures your business has continued access to necessary tools and data, even when third-party providers fail to provide support. While vendors typically have their own disaster recommendations, having emergency migration and support options will allow business continuity, independent of faulty product or service providers.
3) Network Downtime
For some industries, even just 10 minutes of network connectivity can lead to significant losses. A network disaster recovery plan can minimize the amount of time your networks are down by ensuring your IT department has a stock of replacement equipment and appliances. Appointing specific personnel to fix network issues is also crucial in minimizing confusion among employees and executives.
4) Application Failure
CRMs, communication channels, and payment devices can all experience unexpected downtime. In this case, your DRP should include back-up devices that are available on-hand, as well as secondary apps that allow constant communication between employees and clients.
5) Data Center Issues
Not all threats are digital in nature. IT systems housed in a computing facility face a number of threats including fires, intruders, and power interruptions. In 2011, Facebook’s Oregon facility experienced automatic shutdowns due to indoor condensation caused by their own evaporative cooling system. The report revealed that alternating hot and cold temperatures lead to a relative humidity exceeding 95%.
Having a DRP can diminish losses caused by physical damages to your data centers and prevent the damage from snowballing into something worse.
6) Natural Disasters
Natural disasters and other world events can impact day-to-day living, which can directly affect work hours, supply management, and other business operations. For businesses with an international clientele, customers outside your area will inevitably expect the same level of service, regardless of what happens in your region.
In times of stress, a DRP not only prepares your infrastructure and data, but also serves as an auto-pilot configuration that will keep employees motivated and productive during disruptive world events.
Does My Business Need an IT Disaster Recovery Plan?
Even SMEs need to have a rudimentary DRP in place to prepare themselves from unexpected issues. Ultimately, every business – from international banking corporations to local businesses – need a disaster recovery plan to promote continuity.
Here are the advantages of having a DRP:
- Staying productive: When disaster strikes and your team is unprepared, you’re bound to spend more time processing the problem at hand than actually solving it. A DRP eliminates guesswork and provides a specific plan of action when issues finally arise.
- Create a positive brand reputation: Some businesses, such as banks and law firms, are affected by downtime more than others. Whether or not you have an effective DRP may factor in your customers’ decision to work with you.
Additionally, an efficient DRP can prevent negative brand perception when a disaster does arise. Organizations have to have a plan on how to face customers and navigate reputation issues when threatened by data leaks and other IT vulnerabilities.
- Avoid losing to competitors: Modern customers are impatient and won’t tolerate delays. At the very least, your customers will expect clear communication and will anticipate steps on how to move forward. If you are not able to satisfy these, it’s likely your customers will switch to a competitor.
- Promote internal competence: A DRP is a gameplan for your employees. Clarifying roles, responsibilities, and priorities will ensure compliance, making it easier for departments and teams to recover and resume their natural roles.
Five Major Elements Of A Disaster Recovery Plan
1) Asset Inventory
When disaster strikes, you have to know exactly what is affected. One of the key parts of a disaster recovery plan is asset inventory. This list should include all devices in your network, including IoT (internet of things) devices such as printers, modems, and webcams. Cybersecurity hackers often target these low-security devices to retrieve more information about your network or use these devices as a gateway into your system.
When under a cyberattack, an asset inventory can help pinpoint infected devices, leading to a quicker diagnosis. In cases of hardware failures, an asset inventory will allow your team to replace appliances more efficiently.
Ultimately, the asset inventory keeps track of what your business is currently using to perform its daily tasks. When your system shuts down or is corrupted, knowing exactly what to replace will make the restoration efforts easier.
2) Priorities and Strategy
Understanding your tolerance for downtime is a defining step in your planning. Meet with your IT department to determine a recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) for your most crucial applications and hardware. Your RTO and RPO define the solutions you have to adopt when dealing with downtime.
Ideally, every software and hardware would have its own RPO and RTO so your business can determine goals and what counts as successful recovery.
When you perform an asset inventory, it’s also important to rank them according to priority. Ask your sales, marketing, and customer support teams to determine which tools are most necessary for business functions so you can prioritize restoring those as soon as possible.
Executives will be expected to communicate with employees and placate any worries regarding internal security. Your DRP should include a strategy on how to address these issues, as well as alternative working and support options. Determine whether you are closing the business temporarily or allowing remote work so employees know what to expect during a disaster.
3) Asset Replication
During disasters, restoring your IT network can involve a full re-installation of operating systems, applications, and other software. Ensure appointed team members have copies on hand that can be easily uploaded into new devices.
Avoid data loss completely by storing all crucial data on the cloud. In the event of a disaster, you can use a service providers’ servers, giving your business access to their data center as your recovery site without having to invest in additional appliances and personnel. This also gives you access to a remote IT helpdesk.
Additionally, you could look into disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) for comprehensive disaster solutions including cloud storage, security, and bandwidth allocation. This makes asset replication easier since the DRaaS can provide backup copies of your data and information, or just store them virtually.
For small to medium businesses with more tolerance for downtime, having a small-scale but efficient disaster recovery system in place is also a viable solution.
4) Role Assignments
Disaster recovery plans should always define roles, responsibilities, and teams involved during a disaster, including the person who declares the disaster. Specifying roles and responsibilities will allow your business to deploy the DRP without confusion.
In the DRP document, list out relevant personnel and their emergency contact numbers, as well as contact points for third-party vendors. To ensure preparedness, assign a back-up team to deploy the DRP in case critical personnel is not available during the recovery effort.
5) Remote Work Protocol
The DRP should go beyond stabilizing your IT systems and include plans for your workforce. If your business is working with a DRaaS, make sure employees are informed regarding the location, set-up, and protocol involving the temporary worksite.
In the event your office is temporarily unavailable, ensure you have a backup worksite ready, with all the hardware and software used in your primary office. Clear and constant communication within your organization is key in keeping employees productive throughout the recovery process.
Is Your IT Department Prepared For A Disaster?
A disaster recovery plan is only useful once it has proven successful against a disaster. After creating your own DRP, aim to test your plan at least twice a year. The testing process may reveal gaps in your plan, which you can solve before a real disaster happens.
Infrequent testing or no testing at all will likely result in a plan that doesn’t perform as expected during an actual disaster.
Most importantly, your business needs to work with an IT department that can help you create, deploy, and manage a disaster recovery plan from start to finish. Remember: your business is only as strong as your IT department and its defenses. Solve future problems today with a disaster recovery plan.