When considering disaster recovery, any organisation that has seriously examined the impact of a total loss of IT systems would have determined that the desired recovery time objectives (RTOs) are tight. After all, time is money.

The backup mechanism in place determines the minimum RTO possible. Tapes have a finite data transport speed and must be physically moved between sites. Server-based backup solutions, which can perform live replications to a DR site, are a huge improvement in both speed of data transfer and availability, but these require significant skill sets in order to install and manage. With respect to recovery times, there are many other factors that can delay recovery of systems to a running and transactionally consistent state.  How do you determine these factors? Through regular disaster recovery testing.

Disaster preparedness goes beyond taking regular backups. It comes down to knowing that the required resources and recovery skill set is available when needed. It’s reasonable to expect that in-house technical staff can perform tasks such as restoring database backups – the processes for this are well defined and tested. However, restoring platform operating systems and dependent services is a different story, and is complicated when (as is commonly the case) the available recovery platform is dissimilar from that of production. Often physical systems are restored to virtualised systems as part of a cost-effective disaster recovery solution. This is known as a physical to virtual conversion, or P2V, but is not always a straight-forward exercise.

With training and disaster recovery testing exercises, in-house technical staff can develop sufficient knowledge to perform adequate recoveries.  But is the training expense and time invested in this cost-effective? Do you have the man-power to perform sufficient tests such that the time taken for recoveries is within the required recovery time objective? Maybe you can achieve this with a one-off testing exercise, but with the evolving inter-dependencies of typical business systems, will the lessons learnt be applicable in future?

An option worth considering is to engage the services of a dedicated disaster recovery service provider. Such a provider has specific skills in platform management, server-based backup and recovery systems and specific experience recovering a variety of common server technologies such as email and database dependent systems. A disaster recovery service provider should provide your organisation with regular disaster recovery testing exercises that are professionally project managed, executed with a prudent level of isolation from production and will present a professionally prepared report addressing the actual recovery times against the agreed RTOs.

Your in-house IT personnel deal with operational issues every day, and are ideally qualified to validate the correct operation of business systems as restored by a disaster recovery service provider. The coupling of your in-house IT expertise with a disaster recovery service provider able to efficiently restore production systems in the shortest time possible, is a key element to a successful business continuity plan, and ultimately to the survival of a business from a crippling disaster.