Have we really thought about disaster recovery?

by Frank 29. July 2012 06:00

The greatest knowledge-loss disaster I can think of was the destruction of the great library of Alexandria by fire around 642 AD. This was the world’s largest and most complete store of knowledge at the time and it was almost totally destroyed. It would take over a thousand years for mankind to rediscover and regain the knowledge that went up in smoke and to this day we still don’t think we have recovered or re-discovered a lot of what was lost. It was an unmitigated disaster for mankind because nearly all of Alexandria’s records were flammable and most were irreplaceable.

By contrast, we still have far older records from ancient peoples like the Egyptians of five-thousand years ago because they carved their records in stone, a far more durable material.

How durable and protected are your vital records?

I mentioned vital records because disaster recovery is really all about protecting your vital records.  If you are a business a vital record is any record without which your business could not run. For the rest of us a vital record is irreplaceable knowledge or memories. I bet the first thing you grab when fire or flood threatens your home is the family photo album or, in this day and age, the home computer or iPad or backup drive.

In 1996 I presented a paper to the records management society titled “Using technology as a surrogate for managing and capturing vital paper based records.” The technology references are now both quaint and out-of-date but the message is still valid. You need to use the most appropriate technology and processes to protect your vital records.

Interestingly, the challenges today are far greater than they were in 1996 because of the ubiquitous ‘Cloud’.  If you are using Google Docs or Office 365 or even Apple iCloud who do you think is protecting your vital records? Have you heard the term ‘outage’? Would you leave your children with a stranger, especially a stranger who doesn’t even tell you the physical location of your children? A stranger who is liable to say, “Sorry, it appears that your children are missing but under our agreement I accept no liability.” Have you ever read the standard terms and conditions of your Cloud provider? What are your rights if your vital records just disappear? Where are your children right now?

Some challenges are surprisingly no different because we are still producing a large proportion of our vital records in paper. Apart from its major flaws of being highly flammable and subject to water damage paper is in fact an excellent medium for the long term preservation of vital records because we don’t need technology to read it; we may say paper is technology agnostic.

By contrast, all forms of electronic or optical storage are strictly technology dependent. What good is that ten year old DAT tape if you no longer have the Pentium compute, SCSI card, cable and Windows 95 drivers to read it? Have you moved your vital records to new technology lately?

And now to the old bugbear (a persistent problem or source of annoyance), a backup is not disaster recovery. If your IT manager tells you that you are OK because he takes backups you should smack him with your heaviest notebook, (not the iPad, the iPad is too light and definitely not with the Samsung tablet, it is too fragile).

I have written about what disaster recovery really involves and described our disaster recovery services so I won’t repeat it here, I have just provided the link so you can read at your leisure.

Suffice to say, the objective of any disaster recovery process is to ensure that you can keep running your business or life with only a minimal disruption regardless of the type or scale of the disaster.

I am willing to bet that ninety-percent of homes and businesses are unprepared and cannot in any way guarantee that they could continue to run their business or home after a major disaster.

We don’t need to look as far back as 642 AD and the Alexandria Library fire for pertinent examples. How about the tsunami in Japan in 2011? Over 200,000 homes totally destroyed and countless business premises wiped from the face of the earth. Tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, fire and wars are all very real dangers no matter where you live.

However, it isn’t just natural disasters you need to be wary of. A recent study published by EMC Corporation offers a look at how companies in Japan and Asia Pacific deal with disaster recovery. According to the study, the top three causes of data loss and downtime are hardware failure (60%), data corruption (47%), and loss of power (44%).

The study also goes on to analyse how companies are managing backups and concludes, “For all the differences inherent to how countries in the Asia Pacific region deal with their data, there is at least one similarity with the rest of the world: Companies are faced with an increasing amount of data to move within the same backup windows. Many businesses in the region, though, still rely on tape backup systems (38%) or CD-ROMs (38%). On this front, the study found that many businesses (53%) have plans to migrate from tape to a faster medium in order to improve the efficiencies of their data backup and recovery.”

It concludes by estimating where backups are actually stored, “The predominant response is to store offsite data at another company-owned location within the same country (58%), which is followed by at a “third-party site” within the same country.”

I certainly wouldn’t be relying on tape as my only recovery medium and neither would I be relying on data and systems stored at the same site or at an employee’s house. Duplication and separation are the two key principles together with proven and regularly tested processes.

I recently spoke to an IT manager who wasn’t sure what his backup (we didn’t get to disaster recovery) processes were. That was bad enough but when he found out it seemed that they took a full backup once a month and then incremental backups every day and he had not tested the recovery process in years. I sincerely hope that he has somewhere to run and hide when and if his company ever suffers a disaster.

In a nutshell, disaster recovery is all about being able to get up and running again in as short a time as possible even if your building burns to the ground. That in fact is the acid test of any disaster recovery plan. That is, ask your IT manager, “If this building burns down Thursday explain to me how we will be up and operating again on Friday morning.”

If his answer doesn’t fill you with confidence then you do not have a disaster recovery plan.


Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

Month List