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Disaster recovery and failback: Five tips

Most of the attention in business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) focuses on what to do before and during a disaster. This article explores what you should do to restore IT operations following a disaster.

Most of the attention in business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) focuses on what to do before and during a disaster. But suppose the event has happened and it is drawing to a close, what should you do to resume operations? Aside from the staffing, power and data center space-related issues you'll face during post-event recovery, this article explores what you should do to restore IT operations.

Let's assume the situation required your business to relocate to an alternate location, perhaps to a hot site or another office. If the event was contained at your original location and was handled with minimal disruption to systems, applications, networks and data, your return to normal should be relatively easy. In addition to having a detailed technology restoration plan, which serves as the game book for returning to normal, consider the following five tips.

Tip 1 -- Make sure that all data is available and secure. If you've been conducting normal operations at another location, be sure that all the necessary files, applications, databases and other information assets are backed up. This will make it much easier to re-launch operations at your original or possibly new location. Be sure that your security perimeter is protected, as the transition period could be a good time for hackers to invade your environment. Access control is also particularly important during the transition.

Tip 2 -- Make sure all relevant documentation is available and up to date. Assuming that this information may not be available due to the incident, be sure to have copies available, or the ability to re-create the documents from files. You should also make sure that vendors are able to replace lost or damaged documentation.

Tip 3 -- Test all systems and networks before resuming production. Just because you've been operating at an alternate location, don't assume you can just "pack up and return" overnight. Use the alternate location as your test environment while you are re-establishing your production environment and associated infrastructures. Make sure that your information security provisions are in place and up to date. Check the network infrastructure provisions to ensure that sufficient bandwidth is available, Internet access is in place and voice communications assets are ready to use. At the return location, check all equipment components and network services to ensure they are fully ready to resume their duties.

Tip 4 -- Make sure all contractual obligations are addressed. Assuming that your systems and applications have a contract associated with them, check with the vendors to make sure you don't have to re-execute new license agreements when you return to regular operations. This is especially true, for example, if you have a VoIP phone system. Each station usually has a software license associated with it.

Tip 5 -- Conduct a post-event audit and assessment. This is an important opportunity to see what worked, what didn't work, and to identify lessons learned. Update disaster recovery and business continuity plans accordingly and schedule an exercise of the updated plans within two months of the return to work. If you have a return-to-work plan, be sure to review that plan as well.

You may also need to address changes in how you conduct business, such as changes to your supply chain or dealing with new customer expectations. The timing of the return could be important. For example, if your business has seasonal attributes, it may be better to return during a non-peak period.

Regrettably, organizations that create business continuity and/or disaster recovery plans rarely think about the issues involved with returning to work, with the main goal being to ensure the business survived the incident. Now that it has, it's necessary to set up a return-to-business plan. This is essentially the same process -- albeit somewhat in reverse -- as when you established a plan to relocate to an alternate site.

In preparing a return-to-business plan, be sure to have an inventory of all required IT assets, network services, documentation, office supplies, furniture, as well as a plan for staff responsibilities and activities during the transition.

Returning to work following a disaster will test the mettle of virtually any organization. A good return-to-business plan -- just like a disaster recovery or business continuity plan -- will help ensure a smooth return to normal.

About this author: Paul F. Kirvan, FBCI, CBCP, CISSP, 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.

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This was last published in April 2009

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