Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, and other e-mail systems have
become the cornerstones of the modern business communications stream. Not only
has the business itself become dependent on e-mail to survive, but your
Disaster Recovery (DR) plan is most likely based on using e-mail alerting
systems to keep everyone up to date on the recovery efforts. What happens when
your e-mail system becomes the disaster?

DR planning for e-mail is always tricky, for many different
reasons. Once you recognize that a failure has occurred, the first step will
need to be determining how it occurred. If you’re lucky, there will be an
obvious server failure, and you’ll be able to either restore from tape or fail over
to a backup system to correct it. More often than not, however, e-mail faults
occur within the vast array of systems that make up the overall e-mail path
into and out of your organization.

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that trail can take an incredible amount of time
—sometimes more than a full
business day if the problem isn’t on your end. The issue could be contained
within a local e-mail database server, SMTP/Virus/SPAM filtration system, or
another relay station along the way of the e-mail path. Just finding out what
part of the system failed can take more time than fixing it in a majority of
cases. During this time, trying to send out alerts to your end users will be
next to useless, since that mail will have to follow the same path. So, in the
event of an e-mail disaster, you have two choices: either have an alternate
system in place, or be ready to deal with irate end users who can’t get their
mail. There’s some solace in the fact that they can’t e-mail you their complaints,
but the phones will probably still be working, so they’ll get through!

Alternate pathing for e-mail can get very expensive, very
quickly. Many times only the technical response-staff who will need to deal
with the emergency and a few key executives will have this particular service.
Examples are Web-based e-mail systems (like Microsoft’s HotMail or Yahoo!
Mail), mobile e-mail systems (Blackberry, direct paging, etc.) and other types
of non-server-dependent mail. Training on how and when to use those systems is
vital, as accidentally jumping to the new systems will only cause more

You may also want to make sure that everyone in the
organization knows well ahead of time what will be going on during an
emergency, and how fast you’re going to restore service. This can greatly
assist in making sure your technical personnel can focus on restoration of
services instead of fielding end-user complaints.

E-mail system failures present an extraordinary challenge to
your organization. Ensuring proper preparation, proper communication among
vital restoration personnel, and proper action during the crisis will go a long
way to making sure you get back up and running fast.