Your business really needs a disaster recovery plan—here’s why

According to FEMA, 40-60% of small businesses affected by disasters will never reopen their doors. Regardless of your industry, there is a lot riding on how you protect your business from disaster. You likely physically protect your business with alarm systems, cameras, and even safes. You also probably invest in protections for your data and technology systems, as well.

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a tool used by successful businesses the world over to protect themselves. In this article, we’ll explain why so many businesses use it and how you will benefit from having one, too.

Anatomy of a disaster recovery plan

Let’s start by going over the core of any DRP. The details and number of points often vary, but the core of any effective plan has these points:

    1. Assess your business – Inventory your business assets and identify critical processes and functions.
    2. Determine acceptable downtime – Downtime is costly. How long can you (or your customers) afford for systems to be down? This helps determine how quickly you must restore basic operations following a disaster.
    3. Create an action plan – Create a plan to get critical functions up and running within the timeframe determined by step 2. There may be multiple plans to account for different types or scales of disasters.
    4. Determine responsibilities and communication – Who is responsible for which critical roles and essential communications? Be specific.
    5. Test and update – An untested DRP is almost as bad as no DRP. Test your DRP and find the holes and issues. Make adjustments, test again.

Related: 5 Crucial Components of a Disaster Recovery Plan

Get a clear picture of your business

We’ve all heard that old quip about people who “can’t see the forest for the trees”. Whether you are a details person or a big picture person, this is your opportunity to get a good look at both.
The first step in creating a disaster recovery plan is to take a step back and assess your entire business. This enables you to take a holistic view of your operation that you don’t often see when you are working in the day-to-day operations. Make the most of this opportunity to ensure that you are not duplicating efforts or leaving any one area exposed. Take a close look at every aspect of the business and get reacquainted (or get familiar) with aspects that you may not have considered recently. Start with your hardware, but consider also your infrastructure and even your partnerships.

Related: 7 typical disaster recovery plan mistakes (and how to fix them)

Prepare for the inevitable

We would all like to think that we are one of the lucky businesses who will not be adversely affected by circumstances like natural disasters. The reality is, though, that even just a few hours of downtime can cause big problems for a small business. In September 2018, a cooling problem at one of its data centers caused an outage of over 24 hours for Microsoft Azure customers in much of the US. For businesses that rely on Microsoft Azure, that downtime could have cost them dearly. A successful business is dependent on a number of systems, so it’s important to evaluate each one critically and understand the risks and damages of being compromised. Your website outage can be a very different problem if you’re only using it as an advertising landing page than if you are using it to conduct daily business transactions or interactions.
Consider how a business with a DRP might have handled the Azure downtime compared to a business without a DRP. When the event occurred, a business with a DRP plan would have been able to quickly assess the situation, go to the action plan, and determine the best response based on that plan. At its heart, a DRP is about minimizing losses. One day of downtime is unlikely to close your business for good, but it will still cost you. It pays to be realistic about what your priorities will be when a problem arises and how much downtime you can reasonably tolerate.

Related: Why 23% of companies never test their disaster recovery plan, despite major risks

Roll with the punches

In 2016, Southwest Airlines experienced a chain of failures in critical systems that started because of a router breakdown. Over a period of fewer than 48 hours, they canceled hundreds of flights and delayed thousands more. The cost of lost ticket sales alone was between $5 million and $10 million. While this may seem like an extreme example, it’s relevant when you consider that the cause of all this lost revenue and two days of downtime was a simple, unforeseen hardware failure.
Downtime happens to everyone. The best and biggest service providers don’t promise 100% uptime, even as a best-case scenario. What can separate your business from the rest is what you do when downtime strikes. Will it result in a few hours of downtime or a few days?
Restoring your systems efficiently and successfully takes a lot of research and preparation. It’s likely you would rather address your disaster recovery plan while you have the foresight, time and bandwidth, instead of when you’ve got one or multiple systems down and the pressure is on to get things back up. Investigating this kind of information and planning a response tailored to your business is easier to navigate by consulting with the experts.

Related: How to include your MSP in your backup and disaster recovery plan

Will your DR solution come through in the clutch?

Customers value an organization's reliability and ease of access, so whenever unplanned downtime occurs, it not only costs businesses in lost sales, it also damages their reputation. To prevent this type of situation, many companies leverage a disaster recovery solution to get them back online as quickly as possible. However, are you confident that your DR solution will come through in the clutch? Let's take a look at how businesses can ensure that their DR plan works effectively when they need it most.

Document the plan

It's important to have the DR strategy fully documented for training purposes and to guide employees during difficult situations. When there's chaos in the office, it can help to have a policy ready to show workers what steps need to be taken to mitigate the problem. However, only 60 percent of companies actually have a documented DR plan, according to Zetta's "2016 State of Disaster Recovery" report. Of those that are confident in their DR plan, 78 percent have a formally documented plan. It's important to establish this type of mindset to help teams calmly and effectively handle unexpected events.

Organizations should routinely test their DR solution.Organizations should routinely test their DR solution.

Test regularly

Once you have a plan in place, your work is just beginning. Even if you believe that your solution is going to be effective, how can you know that for sure? For example, if backups are a part of your plan, what happens if they malfunction or don't have the information that you require? It's vital to routinely test your DR solution down to the finest details to identify any holes or factors that hadn't been considered. As TechTarget contributor George Crump noted, you won't be able to do a complete test every time because it can be expensive and time-consuming. However, partial testing should be done on a quarterly basis, and a full-scale test should be executed once a year.

Testing is an important part of maintaining a DR solution to ensure that it stays in sync with the production environment. If new hardware or personnel are added into the mix, for example, the DR plan must reflect these changes as soon as possible. Testing offers a chance to review what items have changed since the previous test and allows decision-makers to update the plan. This will address any configuration changes, preventing data loss and other operational failures.

Utilize capable tools

"When downtime occurs, you'll want a DR solution that you know you can rely on."

When downtime occurs, you'll want a DR solution that you know you can rely on. If it lacks functionality or is too complex, it could just create more bottlenecks and make it challenging to restore operations quickly. Zetta's report found that 37 percent of respondents believe their DR solution is simply too difficult to use. It's important to not only have a tool that meets your needs, but also is user-friendly. Choosing such a solution will help employees catch on quickly and effectively guide them through difficult situations.

When it comes to tools, there are a wide variety of options to choose from. However, it's important to get a solution that integrates well with other programs. TechTarget contributor Jon Toigo noted that businesses might be looking at storage hardware, continuous data protection, data backup, virtualization and cloud tools. Develop a DR strategy with testing in mind, particularly how all of these solutions fit together and the best way that they would be evaluated. There might be a tool that has a number of these features, making it easy to test and perfect for your DR needs.

Disaster can strike at any time and can come in a number of forms. With the right tools and vendor support, plan documentation and strategy testing, you can ensure that your DR solution comes through in the clutch.