Tech Tip: Consider these issues when choosing an off-site failover location

Here are some issues to consider when choosing an off-site failover location.

By Mike Talon

Many organizations' disaster recovery plans include the idea of failing over or restoring data to another physical location in the event that the production facility becomes no longer usable.

The primary reason for this is that natural and man-made disasters, such as a hurricane or the loss of a power grid, can easily impact entire cities. In the event that a disaster renders an entire city unavailable, a DR facility in the same region will be no help to your organization.

While placing the DR facilities in another physical location is a great addition to your overall DR plan, you can't ignore the impact that it will have on end users if you have to restore operations suddenly.

For example, while you may be able to easily and quickly move digital operations to another facility (depending on the technology you use to protect the data and systems), you can't ensure that people will move with the same speed. This is especially true if your DR facility resides in another state or is otherwise a long distance from where your workers are at the time of the failure.

When failing over to these locations, you must make arrangements for getting staff to the new office. But you must also ensure that you have the appropriate terminals, desktops, and other required hardware and software ready for the client side of your operations as well.

Hosting all of this hardware can quickly become cost-prohibitive. However, it's a solid investment if you require another office facility in addition to another data center in the event of failure at the primary location.

If you don't want a redundant office facility, you must make sure that end users can work from an alternate location in the event of an emergency. For example, if your organization has nearby branch locations, you can send personnel there to work. This way, they can communicate over existing or temporary VPN connections to allow for continued work without risking security.

You can also send employees home to work. However, this option requires that you have laptops or full-fledged computer systems ready well ahead of the disaster--and that the staff knows how to use the VPN and temporary systems.

In either case, if your failover location isn't in the general proximity, you must determine who will move to the new location and who will work from home. In general, it isn't economically feasible to give every employee a laptop or emergency desktop system. All those VPN licenses can add up quickly as well.

Determining which staffers must be able to connect from home or other offices well ahead of the disaster is mandatory to avoid spending too much. It also helps eliminate some of the confusion of who needs to get back online quickly and who can wait.

No matter where you fail over, using a DR facility that's beyond the line-of-sight horizon of your production site is a good idea. In many cases, you may wish to fail over locally first and then fail over across a WAN link only if the entire facility is unusable.

No matter where you decide to fail over your systems, planning properly ahead of time can help keep your DR plan from creating a second disaster right as you're trying to recover from the first.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.