8 Must-Have Components of an Effective Disaster Recovery Plan

Vitali Edrenkine
EVP, Worldwide Sales & Marketing

In an independent global study commissioned by Arcserve, 95 percent of responding IT decision-makers (ITDMs) said their company has a disaster recovery plan. That’s the good news. The bad news is that more than three-quarters say they have a mature, well-documented, tested, and updated plan

We interpret those metrics to mean that almost everyone has the right intentions. The problem comes down to execution. Time, money, and a lack of understanding of the extent of the threats organizations face today can also come into play. But those threats are genuine. In the same Arcserve-commissioned study, 76 percent of ITDMs reported that their organization had experienced a severe loss of critical data.

Avoiding data loss and downtime due to ransomware, data breaches, and other disasters is imperative for every IT pro today. That starts with an effective disaster recovery plan. With that in mind, here are eight essential elements of a disaster recovery plan:

1. Inventory All Assets

A detailed inventory of all IT assets—hardware, software, data, and network resources—is a critical starting point for an effective disaster recovery plan. Rank the assets based on their importance to business functions. This provides the foundation for a comprehensive risk assessment.

2. Execute a Comprehensive Risk Assessment

Before you can address threats, you need to identify them. That starts with a thorough risk assessment that examines the impacts of an incident on your organization. It’s important to note that this is an iterative and ongoing process that accounts for new threats, changes within your organization, and new technologies. 

Here are the steps involved in executing a comprehensive risk assessment:

Evaluate critical assets, including physical assets, such as data center hardware, and digital assets, including data, software applications, and intellectual property, so that they can be prioritized for recovery. 

Identify all potential threats, from earthquakes and floods to ransomware attacks and data breaches, and asses each threat’s potential impact on your organization.

Assess the level of risk, prioritizing each threat as high-, low-, or medium-impact based on the likelihood of the incident occurring and potential impacts.

Review existing security measures and disaster recovery strategies to assess their effectiveness in mitigating impacts and identify required improvements.

Identify the roles and responsibilities of employees in disaster response and the risk of insider threats.

3. Establish Clear Recovery Objectives

Your recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives (RTOs/RPOs) are core elements of your DR plan. 

Your RTO is the maximum time your business can be down before the consequences are significant. Here are the areas to consider when setting your RTO:

Conduct a business impact analysis (BIA) to understand downtime's operational, financial, and reputational impacts on each of your business processes and prioritize recovery efforts.

Review regulatory and legal requirements to ensure your RTO complies.

Evaluate the interdependencies of your business processes and IT systems to prioritize those most critical for your operations.

Assess the operational capabilities and resource availability required to meet your RTO, including data backup, recovery solutions, and staff availability.   

Your RPO is the maximum acceptable amount of data loss your organization can suffer, which dictates the frequency of your backups so you can retrieve your data from the most recent backup recovery point before an incident. Here are the areas to consider when setting your RPO:

Identify critical data, such as financial and compliance data, that may require a shorter RPO to minimize data loss.

Understand your data’s dynamics so you can back up data that changes more frequently to meet a shorter RPO while backing relatively static data less frequently.

Evaluate data backup and recovery solutions that can meet your RPOs, and consider advanced solutions like Arcserve Unified Data Protection (UDP) that can reduce your downtime from days to minutes. 

Execute a cost-benefit analysis that weighs RPOs against costs to balance your need to minimize data loss against the financial implications of not doing so.

Review legal and regulatory requirements, as with your RTO, to ensure compliance.

4. Build an Effective Communication Plan

An effective communication plan ensures all stakeholders are informed, coordinated, and able to respond appropriately following a disaster. Here are the steps for getting this done:

Designate a crisis communications team responsible for managing all communications during a disaster, including individuals trained in crisis communication and public relations and a spokesperson to speak on behalf of the organization. 

Establish communication objectives that define how stakeholders are informed, coordinate response efforts, and provide updates on recovery progress.

Identify internal and external stakeholders and create communications strategies for each audience.

Set communication channels, such as text, email, social media, company intranet, and emergency notification systems that you will employ during a disaster, and consider those who may not have access to company networks.

Create predefined key messages and templates for various scenarios to speed disaster response. These should cover initial notifications, updates, and resolution.

Assemble comprehensive contact lists for all stakeholders, regularly verify and update them, and ensure they are securely stored and available if disaster strikes.

Regularly review and test your plan with disaster recovery drills to ensure its effectiveness when needed.


5. Establish Guidelines for Partner and Vendor Coordination

When disaster strikes, the repercussions extend beyond your organization. You must also coordinate with partners and vendors to ensure a seamless recovery process. The steps here are to:

• Identify critical vendors and partners, such as cloud service providers, software vendors, hardware suppliers, and third-party service providers vital to your business operations.

Define each vendor’s responsibilities and role in your DR plan, including any specific recovery services they provide, service-level agreements (SLAs) they support for recovery times, and any support services they offer during a disaster.

Review contracts for DR clauses so you understand obligations, uptime guarantees, and compensation for failures to meet agreed-upon SLAs.

6. Implement a Comprehensive Backup Strategy

Ensuring effective disaster recovery demands a failsafe approach to data backups. The 3-2-1-1 backup strategy is the proven solution, and you can read all about it in this post. This strategy is based on keeping multiple copies of your data in separate locations and storing at least one version of your backup data in an immutable format, where data is written only once and can’t be altered or deleted.

7. Define Roles and Responsibilities

Your plan must also include clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the crisis communications team, disaster recovery team, and other key personnel. Everyone must know their responsibilities before, during, and after a disaster to eliminate confusion and ensure efficient recovery. Regular training and drills are essential for keeping everyone prepared, clear on their role, and ready to execute when needed.

8. Test and Update Your Plan Regularly

The only way to ensure the effectiveness of your disaster recovery plan is through regular testing. As the Arcserve-sponsored study found, this is where most organizations need to improve. Testing should simulate various scenarios and be followed by an evaluation of the team’s readiness and updates to the plan.

Get Expert Disaster Recovery Support

Arcserve technology partners can help you implement the appropriate data and ransomware protection, backup, and disaster recovery solutions for your specific needs. Find an Arcserve partner here.

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