Disaster Recovery vs. Business Continuity

In recent years, one of the most popular topics in information technology today has been “Disaster Recovery”.  There are real experts, self-proclaimed experts, and snake-oil salesmen selling all manner of solutions. There are also big players like IBM and HP who can review how a company is using their data infrastructure and help to develop a strategy for implementing a disaster recovery plan.

From a technical aspect, Disaster Recovery can be relatively easy if a company has a well-managed set of critical systems.  Although a Disaster Recovery plan is never truly complete –  it should evolve as the underlying infrastructure does – a proper backup plan and some restoration procedures will generally allow a company to get back up and running if there is fire, flood, theft, or other catastrophic damage to information systems.

A challenge in disaster recovery many forget to consider is managing expectations with the business stakeholders.  Although a company may develop (and pay a lot of money for) a well-thought-out disaster recovery plan, if the executives are actually expecting seamless “Business Continuity” that plan may not meet expectations.

In your company, if a very visible system such as the email server suffered a catastrophic failure, what would be the expectation of the executives?

  • 24 hour turnaround to rebuild the server and restore last night’s backup tape?
  • 1 hour turnaround to bring up a warm standby where the mail stores have been replicating?
  • Real-time replication and automatic failover – in other words, no perceptible loss of service at all?

What about a scenario where an email has been lost or a file deleted from a file server?  Are your stakeholders expecting snapshots of the environment at all times?

Of course, any type of disaster recovery and/or business continuity plan is possible to implement given the appropriate funding.  Money is not always the answer though.  Plan for worst case scenario, but understand the business expectations and ensure your plan is in line with the stakeholder views.  Stakeholder education balanced with proper planning and communication will make life more pleasant for all involved in the event of any recovery request.