Business Continuity Planning

by : James Walsh

These advancements have made it possible to transcend boundaries of race, culture and language. Finally, there is a universal language to conduct business. While the world may have become a smaller place, businesses have grown manifold as the boundaries of exchange have widened. In this entire scenario where data is a defining feature, time and efficiency are of the essence. In the event of data loss, the monetary loss to a company can almost lead it to bankruptcy.

When Disaster Strikes

The world of information technology is incredible but not infallible. It is susceptible to frequent data loss, which can be catastrophic for companies which depend largely on data for their day-to-day functioning. Data loss can occur due to several reasons from human error, technical malfunction and natural disasters. Natural disasters have known to leave behind devastation and incredible losses. They also happen at a time when people are least prepared. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods etc. cause monumental losses, which is very difficult to recover from. Therefore, increasingly, large corporations are spending a lot of time and effort to put a contingency plan in place to be prepared and minimise losses.

Disaster Recovery Planning

Disaster Recovery Planning is a coordinated activity, which involves installing measures to facilitate a business's continued operation, in case a disaster strikes. If operation is interrupted, a plan is put in place to ensure restoration of normal operation with minimum loss. A disaster recovery plan is fairly extensive and involves every area of a business's functioning. It includes planning for off-site backups, redundant hardware at alternative locations and defined processes for protecting and restoring mission critical data. Business Continuity Planning, as it is also called, refers to preventing data loss and data recovery. The functioning of this plan overlaps with risk management.

The Steps Involved in Disaster Recovery Planning

Disaster recovery planning involves a lot of thought and effort and requires coordinated input. A watertight plan should include pre-disaster actions to protect people, business property (including data) and the different facilities. There should also be a plan for emergency shutdown and evacuation along with off-site storage of backed up information. The team which puts a disaster recovery plan in place should begin with analysing the risk, then create a suitable recovery plan and follow this up by providing staff with disaster recovery training. It is also important to regularly update and check recovery systems and procedures. Disaster recovery plans also have certified standards, so it is in a company's best interests to get a recognised certification.

Assessing risk involves an assessment of a business unit's function and a business impact analysis. This is to determine a business unit's contribution to the larger organization. Going on to form a broad disaster recovery framework is usually categorised by importance. Recovery Time Objective is the acceptable amount of time between the disaster and post-disaster functioning. Recovery Point Objective defines how current the data has to constantly be.

To make disaster recovery more efficient, it is important to adjust information systems. This includes consolidating servers and data, either with a Storage Area Network or other archival storage methods.

Disaster Recovery Tiers

There are seven recognised tiers of disaster recovery. These are designed to help identify the various methods of recovering critical computer systems necessary to support business continuity. The seven tiers have been constantly updated to keep pace with evolving technology.

Tier 0: Businesses with absolutely no disaster recovery plan fall in the Tier 0 category. The possibility to recover from disaster is very dim.

Tier 1: Businesses in the Tier 1 category back up their data and send these backups to an off-site storage facility. They usually use the "Pick-up Truck Access Method" to transport the backups. They do not have a hot site and, therefore, should be prepared to accept several days to weeks of data loss.

Tier 2: Businesses in this category have an off-site facility and infrastructure (known as hot site) to restore systems in the event of a disaster. The recovery time in this scenario is fairly predictable.

Tier 3: Building on Tier 2, these businesses include electronic vaulting so that the data backed up is more current. Electronic vaulting requires high-speed communication circuits, channel extension equipments, tape devices and an automated tape library at the remote site.

Tier 4: Businesses which require greater data currency and faster recovery than lower tiers fall into this tier. They adopt disk-based solutions and do not depend on tapes and data loss and recovery time is kept to the minimum.

Tier 5, 6 and 7: The last three tiers include state-of-the art technology and highly improvised systems to ensure that there is almost no data loss and recovery time is negligible. Tier 7 businesses have all recovery applications completely automated.