Opinion: Data recovery requires special attention

Bradley Janse van Rensburg gives us his opinion on why data recovery requires special attention

August 8, 2011

By Bradley Janse van Rensburg, solutions design manager at ContinuitySA.

Many companies understand the need to have Business Continuity plans in place to ensure the business can continue operations even in the event of a major disaster. However, what many organisations forget is there is a specific process involved in recovering information to ensure the specific business functions can carry on effectively.

“Just as IT staff had to ensure that backup tapes were actually readable and recoverable in the old days of tape-only backups, today’s continuity plans need to ensure that all aspects of a business’s infrastructure recovery have been dealt with,” says Bradley Janse van Rensburg, solutions design manager at ContinuitySA. “Not only does this process involve careful consideration of the backup process in terms of frequency and flexibility, it also includes ensuring the data component of the plan allows for the immediate failover of necessary operations to provide continuous business with the most current information.”

The first step in achieving this is to separate the three aspects of infrastructure recovery according to their frequency of updates:

  1. Buildings and hardware have long life spans and backup plans generally last years.
  2. Systems such as operating systems and applications can be patched monthly or weekly, and it will be necessary to ensure the latest updates are functional when switching to a backup system or location.
  3. Data changes on a daily basis and this must be taken into account when designing backup plans. Monthly backup tapes are generally not sufficient to ensure business as usual after a disaster.

What data do you need?

Janse van Rensburg advises companies to design their data continuity plans according to its information’s rate of change. This starts with conducting a business impact analysis (BIA) to determine what data the company has. Normally this will include faxes and other documents, not only electronically stored information. The use of paper-based documents complicates the continuity process.

“Once you know what data you have, you need to ascertain how important each piece of data is and how easy it is to access,” he adds. “The continuity plan must incorporate the structures to back up and recover data that will be required to get the company operational in short order.”

The BIA will also ascertain which areas of the company have critical operational requirements  and which can suffer a delay. It is therefore logical that the data required by the critical business units should take advantage of real time replication or fully managed services to guarantee business continuity. .

Test your plans.

Testing is a crucial aspect of the planning process to ensure the business can restart operations smoothly. When it comes to data, offsite backups are crucial, but so are the mechanisms through which the data is stored.

Many companies try to achieve a paperless office and digitise all incoming paper documents, using these images in daily operations while the actual documents are archived at a separate location. The digitised images and other electronic data that would be required in a short timeframe in the event of a disaster can be replicated or mirrored offsite via numerous products. Janse van Rensburg advises care be taken in ensuring enough flexibility is catered for in the replication solution to avoid nasty surprises when the data needs to be used.

“Issues such as these need to be determined in the planning process and tested thoroughly before the Business Continuity plan is rolled out,” says Janse van Rensburg. “It does the business no good to have its hardware and an offsite location with redundant power supplies ready to go, but to have data that is out of date or corrupted.

“This doesn’t only apply to companies preparing for a major disaster, but also to minor emergencies that result in data loss. Some companies can afford to lose a day’s or even a week’s data, but to many that could cripple operations and result in significant revenue loss. Careful preparation and testing will avoid these potential pitfalls.”

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