Essential guide to business continuity and disaster recovery plans
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An information technology (IT) disaster recovery (DR) plan provides a structured approach for responding to unplanned incidents that threaten an IT infrastructure, which includes hardware, software, networks, processes and people. Protecting your firm's investment in its technology infrastructure, and protecting your firm's ability to conduct business are the key reasons for implementing an IT disaster recovery plan. SearchDisasterRecovery.com's free downloadable IT disaster recovery template will help facilitate the initiation and completion of an IT DR plan.
In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about putting together an IT disaster recovery plan. You'll learn step-by-step IT DR plan development and the most important IT disaster recovery planning considerations. Read our guide, then download our IT disaster recovery plan template, which can be printed out and customized for your company's unique needs.
FREE DOWNLOAD: SearchDisasterRecovery's IT disaster recovery template
IT DISASTER RECOVERY PLAN TEMPLATE TABLE OF CONTENTS
IT disaster recovery plans provide step-by-step procedures for recovering disrupted systems and networks, and help them resume normal operations. The goal of these processes is to minimize any negative impacts to company operations. The IT disaster recovery process identifies critical IT systems and networks; prioritizes their recovery time objective; and delineates the steps needed to restart, reconfigure, and recover them. A comprehensive IT DR plan also includes all the relevant supplier contacts, sources of expertise for recovering disrupted systems and a logical sequence of action steps to take for a smooth recovery.
Assuming you have completed a risk assessment and have identified potential threats to your IT infrastructure, the next step is to determine which infrastructure elements are most important to the performance of your company's business. Also assuming that all IT systems and networks are performing normally, your firm ought to be fully viable, competitive and financially solid. When an incident -- internal or external -- negatively affects the IT infrastructure, the business could be compromised.
According to National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-34, Contingency Planning for Information Technology Systems, the following summarizes the ideal structure for an IT disaster recovery plan:
- Develop the contingency planning policy statement. A formal policy provides the authority and guidance necessary to develop an effective contingency plan.
- Conduct the business impact analysis (BIA). The business impact analysis helps to identify and prioritize critical IT systems and components.
- Identify preventive controls. These are measures that reduce the effects of system disruptions and can increase system availability and reduce contingency life cycle costs.
- Develop recovery strategies. Thorough recovery strategies ensure that the system can be recovered quickly and effectively following a disruption.
- Develop an IT contingency plan. The contingency plan should contain detailed guidance and procedures for restoring a damaged system.
- Plan testing, training and exercising. Testing the plan identifies planning gaps, whereas training prepares recovery personnel for plan activation; both activities improve plan effectiveness and overall agency preparedness.
- Plan maintenance. The plan should be a living document that is updated regularly to remain current with system enhancements.
Using the structure noted in SP 800-34, we can expand those activities into the following structured sequence of activities.
- The plan development team should meet with the internal technology team, application team, and network administrator(s) and establish the scope of the activity, e.g., internal elements, external assets, third-party resources, linkages to other offices/clients/vendors; be sure to brief IT department senior management on these meetings so they are properly informed.
- Gather all relevant network infrastructure documents, e.g., network diagrams, equipment configurations, databases.
- Obtain copies of existing IT and network DR plans; if these do not exist, proceed with the following steps.
- Identify what management perceives as the most serious threats to the IT infrastructure, e.g., fire, human error, loss of power, system failure.
- Identify what management perceives as the most serious vulnerabilities to the infrastructure, e.g., lack of backup power, out-of-date copies of databases.
- Review previous history of outages and disruptions, and how the firm handled them.
- Identify what management perceives as the most critical IT assets, e.g., call center, server farms, Internet access.
- Determine the maximum outage time management can accept if the identified IT assets are unavailable.
- Identify the operational procedures currently used to respond to critical outages.
- Determine when these procedures were last tested to validate their appropriateness.
- Identify emergency response team(s) for all critical IT infrastructure disruptions; determine their level of training with critical systems, especially in emergencies.
- Identify vendor emergency response capabilities; if they have ever been used; if they were did they work properly; how much the company is paying for these services; status of service contract; presence of service-level agreement (SLA) and if it is used.
- Compile results from all assessments into a gap analysis report that identifies what is currently done versus what ought to be done, with recommendations as to how to achieve the required level of preparedness, and estimated investment required.
- Have management review the report and agree on recommended actions.
- Prepare IT disaster recovery plan(s) to address critical IT systems and networks.
- Conduct tests of plans and system recovery assets to validate their operation.
- Update DR plan documentation to reflect changes.
- Schedule next review/audit of IT disaster recovery capabilities.
(Source: NIST SP 800-34)
- Senior management support. Be sure to obtain senior management support so that your plan goals can be achieved.
- Take the IT DR planning process seriously. Although the IT DR plan can take a great deal of time for data gathering and analysis, it doesn't have to be dozens of pages long. Plans simply need the right information, and that information should be current and accurate
- Availability of standards. Among the relevant standards you can use when developing IT DR plans are NIST SP 800-34, ISO/IEC 24762, and BS 25777.
- Keep it simple. Gathering and organizing the right information is critical.
- Review results with business units. Once the IT disaster recovery plan is complete, review the findings with business units leaders to make sure your assumptions are correct
- Be flexible. The suggested template in this article can be modified as needed to accomplish your goals
Next, we'll examine the table of contents from the template, indicating key issues to address and activities to perform.
- Information Technology Statement of Intent -- This sets the stage and direction for the plan.
- Policy Statement -- Very important to include an approved statement of policy regarding the provision of disaster recovery services.
- Objectives -- Main goals of the plan.
- Key Personnel Contact Information -- Very important to have key contact data near the front of the plan. It's the information most likely to be used right away, and should be easy to locate.
- Plan Overview -- Describes basic aspects of the plan, such as updating.
- Emergency Response -- Describes what needs to be done immediately following the onset of an incident.
- Disaster Recovery Team -- Members and contact information of the DR team.
- Emergency Alert, Escalation and DRP Activation -- Steps to take through the early phase of the incident, leading to activation of the DR plan.
- Media -- Tips for dealing with the media.
- Insurance -- Summarizes the insurance coverage associated with the IT environment and any other relevant policies.
- Financial and Legal Issues -- Actions to take for dealing with financial and legal issues.
- DRP Exercising -- Underscores the importance of DR plan exercising.
- Appendix A -- Technology Disaster Recovery Plan Templates -- Sample templates for a variety of technology recoveries; useful to have technical documentation available from select vendors.
- Appendix B -- Suggested Forms -- Ready-to-use forms that will help facilitate the plan completion.
Considering the investments businesses make in their IT infrastructures, they should also invest sufficient time and resources to protect those investments from unplanned and potentially destructive events. SearchDisasterRecovery.com's guide and downloadable IT DR planning template will help you get started on developing plans to protect and recover your critical IT infrastructure assets following such events.
About this author: CISA, CISSP, FBCI, CBCP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He is also secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA Chapter.