Tech Tip: Include nontraditional disasters in your DR plan

Find out why you should include nontraditional disasters in your DR plan.

By Mike Talon

Many companies associate disaster recovery with catastrophic events--earthquakes, floods, fires, and other natural or man-made disasters that make data recovery from production machines nearly or totally impossible. While organizations must plan for such events, it's just as important to prepare for less cataclysmic possibilities, which can just as easily bring business to a halt.

Many "nontraditional" disasters can impact the operations of your organization. For example, gas leaks and other facilities issues typically don't cause permanent damage, but they can easily make the entire building unusable for days or even weeks. Police investigations, fumigations, and other unavoidable problems can arise without warning, prohibiting users from accessing data systems and possibly your entire office space.

Companies can recover from the destruction of data and/or data systems with tape backups, replicated copies, and other tools. But what happens when a disaster doesn't take out the data center--or even destroy the data? Noncatastrophic disasters can still cause a significant period of system downtime.

When these disasters occur, you must make some tough decisions about how to handle the situation. First, can you access data systems remotely, or will it be necessary to set up everything in a temporary location?

If you have remote access, you can find employees temporary space to continue working on the original systems. If employees can't access data systems from another location, you must make even tougher choices to determine how to proceed.

First, you must determine how you're going to restore data. If you have replicated data systems in a disaster recovery location, you can decide if you want to wait out the disaster or fail over to the alternate systems.

Remember that failover will require restoration operations to the original systems when the emergency is over, so short-term outages may be something you just need to muddle through. If the outage will continue for a significant period of time (based on your organization's needs), then it may be necessary to perform failover and eventual restoration operations to get back up and running.

If you don't have replication or other mirroring tools, you must either wait out the problem or restore from tape and/or other backups. In this case, you've hopefully been storing tape backups off-site (even if that means you've simply taken them home with you). If not, a nontraditional emergency could create a situation that will take systems offline for the entire duration of the outage, regardless of the length of the problem.

If you do have backup tapes, you can restore the tapes to temporary servers in another location to get back to business quickly. Keep in mind that this solution also means you'll need to perform the same operation in reverse with the new tapes you make from the temporary systems in order to get back in action in your original environment.

Regardless of what type of DR systems you've implemented, nontraditional disasters require making some tough, quick decisions. In many cases, you'll eventually be able to get back to your original location, but what you do in the interim could make or break your business.

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