Disaster recovery planning for mobile phone users

Any disaster recovery plan that includes cell phone support must restore text messaging capabilities as well as email to text and text to email linking mechanisms. This tip discusses best practices for including mobile phones in your disaster recovery plan.

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In a July 2008 study, an astounding 73% of mobile and smartphone users cited text messaging as their No. 1 priority, and as the most popular capability on their phones. Any disaster recovery (DR) plan that includes cell phone support among its objectives must restore text messaging capabilities as quickly as possible. It must also ensure that email to text and text message to email linking mechanisms get put back to work as quickly...

as possible.

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Likewise, with 41% of mobile phone users checking email by phone one to five times a day and 16% checking email by phone six to 10 times a day, rapid restoration of email servers and services has to rank high on priority lists. It must also be subject to short recovery time objectives (RTOs).

Nearly half of all respondents indicated they also use their mobile phones for Web browsing and Internet access one or more times a day. This only adds to the impetus to bring Internet infrastructure and organizational Web servers and services back up quickly in the wake of a catastrophic failure or outright disaster. In this type of situation, the following factors typically come into play:

  1. Restoration of Microsoft Exchange or other email servers, so that mobile phone users can regain access to email stores, and the ability to send and receive messages
  2. Restoration of Active Directory and/or other directory services or CRM applications from which vital address book information may be obtained, as well as customer history, order information, recent contact notes, etc.
  3. Sufficient internal network infrastructure to allow mobile users to access email, Web services, and other phone-friendly applications and services

Of course, the factors above come into play under the assumption that phone service will be available. But what happens when phones go dead or circuits are clogged?

Integrating mobile phones into your DR planning

Above all, this suggests that mobile phone access should be integrated into periodic disaster recovery exercises. This requires careful review of the services that cell phone users require, and careful weighing against other objectives, to assign appropriate restore activities and RTOs.

During disaster recovery exercises, mobile phone use should be carefully monitored and tested to help assess DR/business continuity (BC) plan effectiveness where such users are concerned. Any problems or issues that emerge from mobile phone use and access must then be driven back into those plans as they govern what servers, services and infrastructure elements get restored, and in what order, during the recovery period immediately after a disaster.

It may very well be the case that some priorities must be re-ordered, and some new elements added, to the collection of essential servers, services and infrastructure elements already chosen and prioritized for recovery activities.

Certainly, looking at disaster recovery and business continuity from the standpoint of roaming mobile phone users in the field puts a different perspective on what's needed and is important in disaster recovery plans and procedures. Though it probably won't change other key priorities such as bringing back ecommerce, key Web sites, line of business applications and services and a working network infrastructure, it will add to the needs and requirements that must be serviced in the first hours after a disaster. And certainly, the rank and file are most likely to appreciate and take advantage of the kinds of services they access using mobile phones.

Don't forget to back up those phones, either

Mobile phones themselves are often used without any kind of safety net. Although users may quail at the thought of losing address books, phone numbers and other important information stored on their handsets, the wireless networking association CTIA estimates that only 2 percent of all cell phones are regularly backed up. We don't mean to suggest that restoring any and all of an organization's cell phones should be part of a DR/BC plan, but we have to recognize that restoring cell phones for key DR/BC recovery team members should be a very high priority item.

Numerous vendors now offer products designed specifically to back up mobile phones in various multiplatform/multi-phone backup technology platforms. Companies such as Backup-Pal and FutureDial Inc. make enterprise-oriented, centrally managed cell phone backup and recovery systems available at prices that range from $50 to $100 per phone per year. These systems target mobile devices by phone number, schedule regular backups and offer various recovery options that include remote and attended recovery.

Even though most carriers and handset manufacturers offer basic backup on a phone-by-phone basis, an increasing number of third parties offer more comprehensive solutions that handle address books, email stores, data files, memory card contents and all the other bits and pieces of key information that might otherwise exist only on a given mobile phone. Centralized backup, management and restore/recovery services also make life easier for busy employees and IT staffers alike. These can dovetail with existing DR/BC plans and solutions in place to improve their reach and coverage.

Ed Tittel is a long-time freelance writer and trainer who specializes in topics related to networking, information security, and markup languages. He writes for numerous TechTarget.com Web sites, and recently finished the 4th edition of The CISSP Study Guide for Sybex/Wiley (ISBN-13: 978-0470276886).

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This was first published in February 2009

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