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What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

A robust disaster recovery plan forms a crucial part of any company's IT strategy. Without a plan to shield you, your company is unprotected from potentially catastrophic data loss. Modern threats are evolving and sophisticated, and are capable of wreaking havoc on IT systems. Even after adopting the best security practices, there is no guarantee that such threats may not pass through.

If such threats get through, you must have a plan in place that outlines a course of action to take and gets your business back on track. The best plans are carefully laid out, and thinking of every potential variable will help reduce your downtime. Remember that downtime means lost revenue for your business, so give yourself the time you need to create a robust Disaster Recovery Plan.

A disaster recovery plan is made so that in any negative event, the organization's IT infrastructure can bounce back. Disaster recovery plans provide benefits like reducing risk as there are plans to prevent them, better defined roles and quicker company level responses. In this article we have discussed all of the steps that you should take to not only create a disaster recovery plan but also the key concepts of disaster recovery.

Disaster Recovery Plan Examples, Causes, and Types

A DR plan, or disaster recovery plan, is a type of documentation laid out by an organization that offers detailed instructions on how to respond to unplanned incidents.

They allow organizations to swiftly recover in response to a disaster. To successfully recover from a disaster, the very first step is to identify the type of disaster that has hit your organization.

The disasters in such cases are generally classified into three types: natural, man-made, and hybrid disasters.

  • Natural disasters, often termed "acts of God" are those that do lack human involvement, they may include fires, flooding, storms, or even a pandemic.
  • Man-made disasters, on the other hand, usually result from human involvement. These include structural collapse, transportation disasters, technological disasters, etc.
  • The third type is a unique mix of both human error and natural forces, i.e., hybrid disasters. For instance, the extensive clearing of forests causes soil erosion and landslides, and the location of factories at the foot of an active volcano.

Once you recognize the cause of the unplanned incident, you can start the DR plan. This will allow you to take consistent actions both during and after the disaster hits so your business can quickly recover.

There are many types of DR plans that organizations may choose to create. Each business is different, so it is important that you fully recognize the types of plans available to you. You can then choose the one that best suits your organization's individual needs.

What are the Types of Disaster Recovery Plan?

There are 4 general types of DR plans:

  • Data Center Disaster Recovery: A data center disaster recovery plan is focused on resuming business operations after an event that targets data, hardware, or software systems in a data center. It generally focuses on the entire building where the servers are housed. While cyberattacks may take down your data servers, natural disasters such as power outages or fires can also negatively impact data. In all cases, a data center disaster recovery plan will lower the risk of data loss and business downtime.
  • Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery: CDR or Cloud Disaster Recovery will allow your organization to quickly recover after an event. They allow your organization to restore your crucial data and systems to any location via the cloud and get them online much more quickly. You can quickly deploy your cloud-based disaster recovery plan to any location within your organization since this system is flexible and streamlined.
  • Virtualization Disaster Recovery: Virtualization disaster recovery allows you to use storage and server "virtualization" to help bring your systems back up in the case of any disaster. Instead of having your backups stored in a physical location, you can store them virtually, keeping them secure from any and all-natural disasters, potential equipment failure, or cyber-attacks.
  • Disaster Recovery as a Service: DRaaS is usually based on, but not limited to, the cloud. This type of disaster recovery is hosted by a third party, so you don't have to separately prepare backup applications or solutions. It involves replication of your physical or virtual servers that act as a backup in the case of a disaster but is typically handled by the DRaaS provider.

What are the Benefits of a Disaster Recovery Plan?

Having a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach is the best way to protect your organization. You need to consider any disasters that may befall your organization and prepare disaster recovery plans accordingly. There are many benefits to having a disaster recovery plan in place:

  • Disaster recovery plans help minimize the risk of disaster and make sure your business operations proceed as planned.
  • A data recovery plan will make sure your data is successfully backed up and recoverable in the case of any disaster. This will also help you avoid your data being held against you for ransom.
  • Disaster recovery plans help everyone understand what role they will play in the case of a disaster to mitigate panic. Instead, they will be better equipped to handle the situation calmly.
  • Customers want to work with a business that is swift at handling any delays and maintaining its service quality, even when disaster hits. Companies with robust disaster recovery plans, therefore, have higher customer retention.

What are the Steps of a Disaster Recovery Plan?

When disaster strikes, most people do not know where to get started. A disaster recovery plan gives you direction on where to start and what actions you need to take.

For starters, a disaster recovery plan is meant to establish goals. These goals usually pertain to how your business should recover in the event of a disaster. Your plan will aim to minimize risk, resume operations quickly, and address the concerns of your employees, owners, and stockholders.

The plan will set a recovery time objective (RTO), i.e., the amount of time you need to recover, and a recovery point objective (RPO), the maximum amount of data loss that is acceptable, usually expressed as an amount of time. It will also have you make a software and hardware inventory, identify personnel roles, list disaster recovery sites, and look for remote storage of media.

Your disaster recovery plan is usually headed by your disaster recovery plan team. Whom you choose to put on your disaster recovery team is the real question. Ideally, you'll want members from multiple departments who can use their expertise to cover all potential areas of risk in your organization. At the head of this team will be your crisis management coordinator or disaster recovery coordinator. He/she should oversee the timely execution of your DRP in collaboration with the team. Phase by phase, the plan will be carried out from the beginning of the disaster to the final recovery of assets. Stages of a disaster recovery plan (DRP) are as follows:

  1. Review all of your IT resources
  2. Figure out what is critical to the mission
  3. Deliver everyone in the plan's roles and responsibilities
  4. Set goals for your recovery
  5. Find a way to store data remotely
  6. Make a test of the plan for recovery

1. Review all of your IT resources

The first phase starts with a review of your IT resources. When disaster strikes, you don't just want to focus on business continuity. You want to be able to maximize your productivity and efficiency as well. To make sure you are getting the most out of your IT systems, be sure to review your IT infrastructure. It will be able to uncover the "real-time health" of your business IT systems.

It will further be able to reduce overall costs spent on IT resources and improve their reliability over time. Remember that information technology plays a critical role in your overall management of disasters, so conducting a review of your IT resources should be a priority.

2. Figure out what is critical to the mission

The next step is identifying your critical business functions (CBFs), which form the core of your organization's processes, without which your organization may not be able to operate. Identifying these functions will help you understand that in the case of a disaster, how much of a loss can your business incur. How long can you last without them before your losses become disastrous? This is better known as your recovery time objective or the RTO. You want to make sure that your critical business functions are back on track within this time objective.

Once you identify the core functions of your business that need to be restored, you can then continue to design your strategies accordingly. Most often, you can list your applications in the following order:

  1. Applications that are mission-critical and generate the most revenue should experience minimal downtime
  2. Semi-important applications which generate minor revenue and can have slightly more acceptable downtimes.
  3. Applications that generate little to no reverie and therefore have no impact on your mission-critical applications.

3. Deliver everyone in the plan's roles and responsibilities

For phase 3, you will start to organize your project team and maximize the efforts needed to implement the disaster recovery plan as efficiently as possible. Your organization should have a pre-designated disaster recovery team that is fully acquainted with the recovery process enlisted in the DRP. The plan will outline the responsibilities of the recovery team, including what to do in the case of a disaster, what to do post-disaster, and even how to prepare yourself in advance for such disasters.

Most plans will outline that more than one person should be able to perform any necessary tasks, particularly those linked to critical business functions. Staff should also be aware of how to manually override software/hardware which may be damaged during a disaster. Furthermore, all members of your organization should be trained on how to act in the event of a disaster, especially those working in a high-risk environment.

4. Set goals for your recovery

Once you can identify the disaster that has hit, you can also start working on setting goals for your recovery. There isn't one single goal, but rather several goals and objectives that should help bring your disaster recovery plan to completion.

The first goal should be to minimize the overall risk your business is at. Ask yourself what parts of my business are vital, without which my business may not be able to restart. Look for any holes that may delay your company's recovery and mitigate them.

Your next goal should be to effectively restore your day-to-day operations within a reasonable time frame. Most businesses that are unable to recover within the first few days tend to suffer from losses they never fully recover from. You need to get your business running before your customers start looking to your competition instead.

Finally, while overseeing your business's getting back on track, make sure you consider government regulations. Be prompt about your response but don't cut corners or take any shortcuts that might put your business at risk.

5. Find a way to store data remotely

Choosing the right storage solution for your disaster recovery plan is crucial. You could store your data completely off-premises in the cloud. Other companies prefer to follow a hybrid approach and use both on-premises infrastructure and public and private clouds to store their data. The business will then keep its core data storage on-premises or in a private cloud and store the remainder in the public cloud.

Whichever approach you decide on, make sure your backup and recovery architecture is adequate or you will be at risk of data loss. A smart business would make sure that its data is backed up at least once every month.

6. Make a test of the plan for recovery

Your plan will never be categorized as a true plan unless it is tested. You need to review and test your disaster recovery plan at least twice a year to ensure that your course of action will be adequate. Businesses change and evolve, and with them, so do their disaster recovery plans. Take the time to rehearse your plans as your company grows or you see any changes in your organization. Testing will allow you to identify any errors so you can develop counter solutions.

You can do this by performing a walk-through of your disaster recovery plan, to see that your team is aware of their roles and responsibilities in the event of a disaster. You can also perform a stimulation test in a controlled environment that focuses on the recovery of critical components of your business.

Disaster Recovery Plan Template for Small Business Owners

No matter how big or small your business is, you are always at risk of possible natural and man-made attacks. According to Statista, companies globally are losing $400,000 on average due to downtime. To avoid becoming one of them, you need to have a disaster recovery plan ready on the go.

Your disaster recovery plan template should include the 6 phases we have discussed above:

  1. Start by reviewing your IT resources. How will you communicate in the case of a disaster? What if your business processes are supported by multiple IT systems? Whom would you need to contact in the event of an IT outage?
  2. Next, focus on the core parts of your business. Make their recovery your absolute priority above all.
  3. Make sure your team knows what responsibilities they will be performing in the event of any disaster. Keep a list of all team members involved and a description of their duties outlined.
  4. Set goals for your recovery. They should be clear, manageable, and recordable.
  5. Make sure you have a solid data backup in the event of a breakdown. Keep your data backed up at all times.
  6. Finally, Test! Test! Test!

What are the Key Concepts of DR?

Before you can craft a solid data recovery plan, you need to understand some of its core concepts. We've already briefly touched on some concepts such as RPO and RTO, we'll be discussing some other major concepts that you should be aware of.

What is Business Impact Analysis (BIA)?

First off is BIA, or Business Impact Analysis. As the name suggests, BIA is a method used to analyze how critical your business activities are and how resilient they are to any potential business disruptions.

Many disasters may hit your business. Each possible scenario should be considered. Some major impacts the BIA should identify include lost sales and income, delayed sales, increased expenses, regulatory fines, low customer retention, or delays in business plans.

Business impact analysis will help understand how impacts are tied to downtime. The organizations can then take appropriate measures to meet recovery objectives and allocate funds accordingly. Without BIA, there may be confusion about recovery priorities, inefficiencies in business recovery, and no clarity on investment for business continuity.

What is Risk Assessment?

The first step to keeping your organization safe from disaster is to work on risk assessment. A risk assessment will help you uncover potential threats and vulnerabilities to your organization, particularly your organization's underlying infrastructure. You should perform a risk assessment before you conduct a BIA, to understand exactly what your business may be at risk of. This includes natural, manmade, and hybrid disasters and estimates how probable each one may be.

The document will also enlist the amount of cost needed to mitigate the effects of the incident, the damage the incident may cause, and what preventative measures the organizations may take to protect themselves.

What is Recovery Point Objective (RPO)?

The recovery point objective is the upper limit of the data that is acceptable for losses after disaster recovery. This is usually measured by the time, or more appropriately, the age of the data or files in backup storage. RPO will help determine the maximum age of the data files you should have stored in your backup to meet your set disaster recovery goals.

The RPO will also help you determine how often your organization's backup schedule should be regulated. It is sufficient to save enough data to make recovery easier after a disaster. RPO helps us look at the facts: you will lose data. But you can control just how much data you lose to some extent by keeping your data frequently backed up.

What is Recovery Time Objective (RTO)?

A Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is a measure of the maximum length of time your network, your computer, your applications, or system can be down after a disaster before it results in significant damage. RTO also helps us understand the acceptable time it may take for your business to go from loss to recovery.

How is RTO measured? They represent the overall needs of your business and how long your business can survive without its infrastructure of services. It all depends on your recovery time. The faster recovery speeds your IT administrators can guarantee, the shorter your RTO will be.

What is a Business Continuity Plan?

A Business Continuity Plan (BCP), is a system that helps protect your company from potential threats and helps it recover in the event that such threats manage to get through. The business continuity plan will see to it that your personal and core assets are well protected and can quickly recover from functioning in the case of any disaster.

Risks may vary from fire, floor to cyber attacks, or ransomware. BCPs will assess how each threat may risk your operations, implement safeguards to protect your organization from these threats, and make sure your plan is updated at all times.

What is the Difference Between DRP and BCP?

At first glance, a Business Continuity Plan might seem similar to a Disaster Recovery Plan, but that is not exactly right. Both focus on different aspects of your recovery.

A disaster recovery plan focuses more on the steps to take after the disaster has hit, whereas a business continuity plan focuses more on the preparatory steps you may take before a disaster strikes.

Similarly, a business continuity plan is concerned with keeping your business operations running, in a different location or using different tools and applications. Whereas a disaster recovery plan is concerned with restoring your existing business operations to their original state.

What are the Strategies and Tools for a Disaster Recovery Plan?

When you formulate disaster recovery strategies, you need to focus on all potential areas of risk. For instance, if we target IT recovery alone, we must also look at the hardware, software, and data recovery. We need to manage networks, servers, wired and wireless devices, along with underlying electronic data interchange, electronic mail, fiber, and cables.

Any part of your overall system missing will lead to a failure of recovery for the system itself. Even if you manage to salvage your software and hardware, your data is always at potential risk. Keeping a data backup ready should form an integral part of your disaster recovery plan. Data should be backed up as frequently as necessary, so data loss does not mean that your business proceedings come to a halt indefinitely.

More and more companies are investing in Disaster recovery software tools and services. Dedicated tools and services can help guide businesses to better disaster recovery plans. They facilitate the planning and execution of DRPs for any potential events that may damage your network, servers, or computers.

Some of the top contenders in Disaster Recovery(DR) market include:

  • Zerto
  • ARCserve
  • Acronis
  • Barracuda Networks
  • Druva

How a Next-Generation Firewall can Help for Disaster Recovery?

A disaster recovery system is only as effective as its level of security. With a powerful next-generation firewall, like Zenarmor, you can ensure that your disaster recovery architecture is secure from attackers, allowing you to resume operations with unharmed systems and data.

The deep packet inspection (DPI) capability of the next-generation firewall (NGFW), makes it an excellent tool for usage at the edge of your disaster recovery network. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) feature not only captures the cyber threats that traditional packet filtering firewalls detect, but also employs artificial intelligence to examine the contents of a data packet for malware and other dangers that might impair your disaster recovery architecture.

NGFWs also offer security against zero-day attacks and threats to your web application programming interfaces for your disaster recovery system. If your disaster recovery solution includes a parallel system running a mission-critical API, NGFW can safeguard it so that it is instantly operational in the case of a catastrophe.