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Dealing with non-traditional disasters

Prepare all you like for major disasters but don?t overlook the potential minor incidents that could bring your business to a grinding halt In this article, Ian Masters, sales director at Sunbelt System Software, looks at how ?non-traditional? disasters, such as gas leaks and human error, can impact on the operations of your organisation

 

Date: 1 Sep 2005

Many companies associate disaster recovery with catastrophic events ? earthquakes, floods, fires and other natural or man-made disasters that make data recovery from production machines nearly or totally impossible. While organisations must plan for such events, it's just as important to prepare for less cataclysmic possibilities, which can just as easily bring business to a halt.

Many "non-traditional" disasters can impact the operations of your organisation. For example, gas leaks and other facilities issues typically don't cause permanent damage but they can easily make the entire building unusable for days or even weeks. Police investigations, fumigations and other unavoidable problems can arise without warning, prohibiting users from accessing data systems and possibly your entire office space.

Companies can recover from the destruction of data and/or data systems with tape backups, replicated copies and other tools. But what happens when a disaster doesn't take out the data centre ? or even destroy the data? Non-catastrophic disasters can still cause a significant period of system downtime.

Initially you will need to follow some basic steps of creating any DR plan. Firstly, dedicate an individual or team, dependant on the size of your organisation, who are responsible for ALL aspects of the DR plan. Then continue with the following:
? Get management buy-in
? Document the process
? Investigate the options
? Define your recovery point and time objectives
? Create and document response procedures for different situations

This last step is the most important step for non-traditional disasters. Make sure you and your management understand what steps you will take in the event of different types of disaster.

Generally, when non-traditional disasters occur, you must make some tough decisions about how to handle the situation. Can you access data systems remotely or will it be necessary to set up everything in a temporary location?

If you have remote access, you can find employees temporary space to continue working on the original systems. If employees can't access data systems from another location you must make even tougher choices to determine how to proceed.

You must determine how you're going to restore data. If you have replicated data systems in a disaster recovery location you can decide if you want to wait out the disaster or failover to the alternative systems.

Remember that failover will require restoration operations to the original systems when the emergency is over; so short-term outages may be something you just need to muddle through. If the outage will continue for a significant period of time (based on your organisation's needs) then it may be necessary to perform failover and eventual restoration operations to get back up and running.

If you don't have replication or other mirroring tools, you must either wait out the problem or restore from tape and/or other backups. In this case, you've hopefully been storing tape backups off-site (even if that means you've simply taken them home with you). If not, a non-traditional emergency could create a situation that will take systems offline for the entire duration of the outage, regardless of the length of the problem.

If you do have backup tapes, you can restore the tapes to temporary servers in another location to get back to business quickly. Keep in mind that this solution also means you'll need to perform the same operation in reverse with the new tapes you make from the temporary systems in order to get back in action in your original environment.

This is why planning and documenting is so important. Your business has to have the ability to make hard decisions even when all the key members of staff are not available. Can you determine how long the problem is going to last? What DR systems do you have in place? Will implementation and restoration of your DR plan, or some part of it, actually have any real business benefit? Will implementation end up restricting access to data and/or applications in the long term?

Regardless of what type of DR systems you've implemented, non-traditional disasters require making some tough, quick decisions. In many cases, you'll eventually be able to get back to your original location, but what you do in the interim could make or break your business.

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