Disaster Recovery dos & don'ts: How to plan for worst-case scenarios

Even after those months of planning against the worst possible outcome, the unthinkable can happen. Prepare yourself!

Even after those months of planning against the worst possible outcome…(You did plan for this, didn't you?)…and hours spent preparing detailed documentation…(You did write it all down, right?)…the unthinkable can happen. In fact, chances are good that it will happen. So, there you are: Your systems are down, your data unreachable and your users just plain panicked. Will your disaster plan hold up in this full-fledged disaster recovery?...

Does this scenario make you nervous? Relax, grab a half-caf latte, and let's get down to the business of disaster planning.

Do determine a plan of action BEFORE disaster strikes. Whether your backup tapes are in a formal off-site storage facility or sitting in a fire-safe in your junior admin's garage, lay out a plan for getting your media to where it needs to be. This means developing a call-down list of essential personnel, a prioritized schedule of which services need to be restored in what order, and a breakdown of each team member's individual tasks and responsibilities.

Don't assume that all personnel will necessarily be available. You can't exactly expect your server room to have the courtesy not to flood while your backup/restore guru is on a cruise with his wife in the Caymans, now can you? Have a backup plan even to your BACKUP plan!

Do plan for ALL network services, even those not specific to your business. Do you rely on external DNS or SMTP servers? Contract with a second ISP to provide backups to these services. What about phones? Voicemail, even if it is an announce-only -- "We are experiencing a service outage." -- message, can prove crucial to keeping your employees and customers informed during the recovery process. And while we're on the subject…

Don't forget to keep your users informed during the planning and recovery process. Are you just telling everyone to stay home while you fix the servers? Do staff members have any responsibilities during disaster recovery? Does your company have a remote branch office that staff can work out of? Does anyone who isn't a server administrator know ANY of this?

Do maintain an off-site copy of your disaster recovery plan and documentation, and keep it updated. You'll avoid the embarrassing egg-on-one's-face scenario that would follow the question: "But, wait, how do we get to the DR documentation on a server that isn't accessible?" Chicken, meet egg, and vice versa.

Don't limit your disaster planning to a "best-case scenario." How well is that mission-critical application going to work across a few subnets if, rather than having your usual beefy T-3 line at your disposal, you are limited to a 128Kbps ISDN backup circuit? Does someone know how to configure Microsoft Exchange to use a dial-up connection to temporarily retrieve e-mail? (See above discussion of planning for ALL network services: Backup circuit=good thing.)

About the author: Laura Hunter has spent many years working in the trenches of network design, administration and user support and has earned a myriad of vendor certifications, including MCSE, CNE and CCNA. She is presently a senior systems Analyst for a major American university.


This was first published in June 2002
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