Dispelling the Myths of Backup, Disaster Recovery, and Business Continuity

Data backup (Backup), disaster recovery (DR), and business continuity (BC) are some of the most misunderstood concepts in Information Technology. There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding Backup, DR, and BC. We are going to define and discuss these important concepts in this series of articles. We will also discuss the importance of having a business disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan, as well as testing your plans.

Disaster Strikes

What is a disaster for your business? There are many things that can be disastrous to your business. We define a disaster as any event that prevents you from operating your business in a normal manner. Many times we think of fire, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, etc. As disasters. But disasters come in many sizes and levels of severity. We had one client that called about a flooded building that was condemned by the fire marshal. The flood was caused by a faulty sprinkler system on the 3rd floor that caused water to flow through all 3 floors of the building. Another client called about an overflowing toilet that flooded their suite. Yet another client called about a complete power and data failure to their building caused by a backhoe at a neighboring construction site. And then there is the disaster of your system crashing to the point of losing everything on the hard drive and your data is unrecoverable.

All of these are examples of disasters that are localized to a single building, a single suite in a building, or just your business’ I.T. department.

Why do you need Disaster Recovery?

According to many expert sources including Gartner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the University of Texas, 70% of businesses that experience a major data loss are out of business within one year and 94% of businesses suffering from a catastrophic data loss do not survive. With those kinds of odds it is like betting your business in Las Vegas if you don’t have some form of disaster recovery in place.

Disaster Recovery

Let’s discuss disaster recovery in general. DR is much more than just copying your data to an external media such as tape, hard drive, or a cloud-based disaster recovery data center. If you truly want disaster recovery then you need to have off-site, duplicate:

  • IT Infrastructure
  • Current copy of ALL your data
  • Remote Access

The duplicate IT infrastructure may vary in quantity and level but at a minimum you should have sufficient resources to run all your business critical application and provide access to all your business critical data for an indefinite period of time. Your data should be replicated daily to the cloud based or private cloud disaster recovery location and you need reliable remote access to these resources.

There are many levels of disaster recovery but we break DR down into the five levels listed below:

  1. Off-Site Data Backup
  2. Cold Disaster Recovery
  3. Warm Disaster Recovery
  4. Hot Disaster Recovery
  5. Fully Redundant Data Centers

We will briefly describe the five DR types in this article but leave the detailed descriptions and discussions for the following articles. In the last article in this series, we will discuss business continuity in more detail.

Data Backup

Data backup is the process of making a copy of your data files on another media. Depending on how much data you have, you can accomplish this process by copying your files to a thumb drive, external hard drive, DVD, tape, another computer, or to an off-site location in the cloud (cloud backup). You could also backup important files to one media set and then all your files to a cloud backup. This would allow rapid, off-line access to important files on say a thumb drive while still having a complete set of files available should catastrophe strike.

There are many pitfalls to backing up your data properly that we will continue to cover in following articles.

Cold Disaster Recovery

Cold DR is when you have your mission critical servers duplicated and your data replicated; all in an off-site data center. Data replication typically occurs on a daily basis but may be more frequent. The servers are not actually turned on so they are not using resources on the data center hardware. Switch over may take a full business day so you can be without access to your applications and data until everything is fully up and running. This is usually the least cost disaster recovery approach.

Warm Disaster Recovery

Warm DR is when you have your mission critical Servers duplicated and your data replicated; all in an off-site data center. Data is typically replicated 4 or more times per day. You may also have some additional non-critical servers duplicated in the data center. The servers are actually running and available so switch over is faster and will usually only take a few hours to complete. This DR approach typically costs more than cold DR.

Hot Disaster Recovery

Hot DR is when you have all your servers duplicated in an off-site data center and your data is replicated in near real-time. The servers are actually running and available. Switch over is an automatic process so down time may be as low as 15 minutes.

Fully Redundant Data Centers

This level is not for most businesses as it is more than just disaster recovery; it is about load balancing and high availability. Only companies with large operations utilize this type of IT infrastructure.

Business Continuity

While your business continuity plan incorporates your IT disaster recovery plan and the other departments’ DR plans, BC is much more. Business continuity speaks to how your business will continue to operate when something happens to stop operations at your main or branch facilities. Even if you have only one location it is important to have a business continuity plan so people know what to do.

Testing and Updating Your Plans

And then there are two of the most overlooked parts of disaster recovery and business continuity; testing and updating. Most companies go through the expense of developing DR and BC Plans then put them in a binder and pat themselves on the back that they have completed the process. The next time the plans are looked at is when a disaster has struck. This is the worst time to get the plan out and review it; people are not familiar with what they should do and many times current configurations are not addressed or holes in the plan are found. Having DR and BC plans is a living process that should be revisited quarterly but at least annually.