In today's economy, a vendor-hosted hot site for disaster recovery purposes is an expense that may be better managed via an internal hot site. While on the surface this argument has merit, it does require an appropriate level of understanding as to how this hot site fits -- and doesn't fit -- within an organization's current operations and disaster recovery (DR) plan.
Assuming that a cost benefit analysis of backup site types has determined that cold or warm sites are not appropriate solutions for a specific organization, how does that organization ensure that an internally managed hot site provides value? And not only provides value when a disaster is declared, but also leveraging this investment for appropriate day-to-day operations.
Scope analysis of a hot site
Determining the scope of the hot site responsibilities is critical in preparing to create a new hot site. Identifying which applications are appropriate candidates for the hot site are an important part of the disaster recovery plan impact analysis.
An inventory of applications and the associated hardware, infrastructure and communications required will ensure that the size and configuration of the hot site provide the level of disaster support required. Too often, as a cost-savings measure, organizations will undersize their hot site based on immediate needs. They often disregard other factors, such as the additional system needs during ongoing daily operations support that can stretch into days or weeks after a disaster had required activation. Or worse, an organization will deem all applications mission critical and grossly oversize the hot site capabilities.
Hot site location
The location of a hot site is as important as the amount of equipment installed. A large multi-facility organization has more cost-effective options than a single location organization, but both face similar geographic questions. Can you locate the site far enough away from your primary data center yet still have reasonable access travel times if you need to activate it?
A hot site located on the West coast could require a two- or three-day drive for an East coast firm without an airplane. If there is not local, and trained, staff available to prepare the hot site, this considerably extends downtime.
Conversely, locating the hot site too close to home could subject it to the same risks and disasters as the primary data center. Finding the right balance of distance, threat possibilities (i.e., flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes) and facility size can take months. Having assistance from an outside consultant/broker may be the quickest solution for a build or buy situation, and examining the existing facilities and staff levels can be a cost-effective way to utilize current buildings beyond their original intent.
Be creative -- a distribution hub located in the Great Plains States certainly has different threats than the main office on the Gulf, yet can be a perfect spot for adding a hot site and subsequent repurposed cold site space.
Hot site usage
Most organizations should try to gain some additional value from the equipment sitting in the hot site. Having servers and connectivity waiting only for disaster tests and declared events is both costly and not a good use of corporate assets. While the temptation exists to split the normal production workload across both the primary and hot site locations, before undertaking a dual-center environment, clear usage policies and procedures must be in place and enforced.
For most organizations, the hot site hardware will be of a similar configuration to the production environment located in the primary data center. This makes the hot site an ideal integration test or pre-production staging environment. It also provides a near real-time regular backup of the current versions of the applications which allows faster recovery and cutover opportunities.
Other organizations will need to ensure regular audit checks of the primary and hot site to validate that the equipment configurations sufficiently match the production requirements for a disaster. A more robust solution that requires additional management activities would allow the primary site and hot site to coexist within the production environment on an active-active dual site basis. In the event either environment experiences a failure, the other site seamlessly takes over. While costly, organizations that can justify zero downtime due to lost opportunities may determine that this dual site option reduces the need for an additional hot site.
Organizations are finding that hot site management can become an acceptable alternative to third-party hosted hot sites. Organizations are also learning that owning a hot site can be cost-effective when properly maintained and can even become an integral part of the daily operational needs, all while providing the insurance and assurances that a secondary site delivers.
About this author: Ken Koch is a recognized leader in contingency activities critical to mitigation, preparation, planning and recovery from manmade and natural threats. Mr. Koch is a frequently invited speaker at seminars and private events, industry topical writer, instructor/educator and business continuity consultant. Since founding his own firm in 1997, he has assisted both public and private sector clients with risk assessment, exercise planning and evaluations, and staff training along with declared disaster recovery situations.
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