Tech Tip: Develop a DR plan that's more than an insurance policy

Find out how to create a disaster recovery plan that contributes more to the organization than just insurance against a disaster.

By Mike Talon

In other articles, I've discussed how to get the budget you need to put a successful disaster recovery plan into place. Keeping with this theme, now I want to focus on one of the most common reasons for not getting budget approval.

Specifically, I'm talking about the idea that the DR system will be nothing more than an expensive insurance policy that the organization hopes never to use. Overcoming this objection can require some in-depth explanations on your part to the powers-that-be. To help strengthen your case, you should also consider creating a DR plan that acts as more than just insurance.

The explanations are pretty straight-forward. In addition to discussing exactly how much money the company could lose to a serious outage, you can also point out that lower recovery costs will offset the expenses of the DR system--and a DR system can even lower operational costs due to avoiding fines from regulatory agencies.

But sometimes actions speak louder than words. Consider designing your proposed DR solution to serve other purposes in addition to protecting the data systems. While there are several ways to do this, the two most common are centralized or enhanced backup systems and multitasking the DR servers.

Enhanced backup is the idea of using a replication system to transport data to another physical device, using either software-based tools or SAN-based hardware replication systems. In either case, you can typically back up the replicated data systems from the replicated copy--freeing up the production systems.

This means you don't have to worry about the production systems taking a processor and/or memory hit when backup agents are running. In addition, you can reduce the number of required backup agents, and you can reduce the number of open file issues you'd normally see with standard backup technologies.

All this translates into more manageable backups and no more "backup windows." Using an enhanced backup system, you can back up data in the middle of the production day without impacting end-user performance or requiring all files to be in a closed state.

A centralized backup system extends this concept to branch-office operations. The system replicates data to a central or set of regional offices, where you can back it up and protect it for your DR purposes. Because branch offices often don't have dedicated technical staff, this offers the added benefit of performing backup operations where the knowledgeable staffers are.

Multitasking the backup servers involves using the DR data systems to perform other operations while still being ready to stand in for a failed primary data system. For example, two file servers can easily replicate or otherwise copy data to each other. Under normal circumstances, these servers act as single file resources. But during a disaster, either one can stand in for its counterpart--while continuing to serve its original population.

Keep in mind that you'll experience a performance hit after a failover when using this solution. But if this hit is acceptable, multitasking the backup server is a valid methodology for getting more than just insurance out of your DR plan.

However you decide to make the most out of your DR system, planning to do so before asking for budget approval can often make the process go much more smoothly. Demonstrating that your proposed DR plan offers value beyond insurance can help you overcome budget hurdles--and get the company more "bang for its buck" overall.

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