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How to prepare for data incidents: 6 best disaster recovery tips

As Storm Desmond brought home all too clearly, serious storm damage to businesses and infrastructure is just a few rogue isobars away. Dealing with the aftermath of widespread flooding, power cuts and landslides across the country is a huge task, so we take a look at some top tips to help under-pressure IT teams deal with similar major incidents.

Remember that every incident is unique - one size doesn’t fit all

Incidents can range from winter storms, power outages, ransomware attacks through to fires - all of which will require a different level and type of response. The IT department must have a full understanding of all types of likely threat, via a full risk assessment based on the location and accessibility of your data centres, as well as the scope of any malicious attacks that could occur. Remember that the scale of the real-world incident may not reflect the IT one - human error can delete entire servers, while a serious fire might just destroy a few desktops.

Set your recovery goals early

While creating backups is part of a disaster recovery strategy, don’t assume that it’s a silver bullet - backups may not contain the very latest data, and may not be quickly accessible post-incident. Defining solid recovery time objectives (RTO) criteria is a must, as well as calculating how long your business can continue to run without access to your data. The IT team also needs to define recovery point objectives (RPO), which is essentially the maximum age of data that will still be useful to back up.

Set your support requirements

Although there are a vast range of recovery technologies and combinations, there’s a simple method to plot which blend you need - based on the requirements above, what level of support does your business require? The more expensive your downtime will be for your business, the more comprehensive and potentially complex the mitigation package you’ll need. The most appropriate recovery process may include some or all of the following: a file restore solution, local virtualisation, off-site virtualisation or partnering with a cloud provider for backup.

Don’t let your judgement become clouded

Cloud economics can be a huge boon when considering your Business Continuity strategy. Partnering with a cloud provider who offers great support for your IT department’s Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) strategy, given their geographical location and performance capabilities can be a no-brainer compared to the costs of building out a separate physical data protection site.

Always secure those apps!

Although many of you will be reading this thinking 'I don't have any apps!', you'll have more outsourced functions than you think. From accounting software and hosting tools for SMEs, up to the big names like Salesforce, a surprising amount of your business’ most critical data probably lives across a mix of hardware and software, or in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. Although these apps will be incredibly easy and painless to use it's vital they're not overlooked in a disaster recovery plan, as they can pose huge risks for your data. Conducting a full audit of applications in use across the business and then ensuring they're protected is essential, especially if another disastrous winter storm occurs any time soon.

Never stop assessing

Continuously assess your Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategy and test this frequently as your business grows and threats change. Likely scenarios can change very quickly, and a continuous programme of challenging assumptions will bear fruit. While you can’t always predict what’s going to happen, you can prepare for the probabilities. A specific milestone in assessing the effectiveness of your strategy is after it's been tested by a real recovery incident - how did the team react? Were there areas that could easily be improved, and did all your various service providers behave and perform as you expected?

Overall, planning for weather-related disasters is relatively simple once you assess your risk landscape and goals for disaster recovery, and the same goes for other types of disaster. With careful planning and thought about worst-case scenarios, you can disseminate a comprehensive and continually evolving Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategy across your organisation. One thing is for sure, the time spent on planning for extreme weather events will rarely be wasted!

Andrew Stuart, MD of Datto EMEA

Image Credit: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock

Andrew Stuart
Andrew Stuart is managing director of Datto’s EMEA business. He has more than a decade of experience in the IT industry and was instrumental in Datto’s expansion into EMEA.