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Disaster Recovery: Preparing For and Responding To IT Disasters

In IT, a disaster is any unplanned event that can cause serious disruption, damage, or destruction to IT assets (desktops, servers, applications, etc.). Disaster recovery is what you do to prepare for and respond to such disasters in order to minimize or prevent any damage. Common disaster recovery measures include data backups, redundant internet, and redundant power.

One type of IT disasters is natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, and blizzards), which affect IT assets either by damaging or destroying IT hardware, by causing the power to go out or the internet to go down, or by making it impossible for employees to get to the offices where they normally access their IT assets. Other types include power and internet outages that are unrelated to natural disasters, as well as electrical fires, natural gas explosions, and the accidental activation of fire sprinkler systems.

Perhaps the most common type of IT disaster is when an IT asset that multiple users depend on, including hardware like servers, storage devices, and routers and software like CRMs and Microsoft SharePoint, simply stops working for one reason or another (due to failed components or corrupt code, for example) and can’t immediately be fixed. Finally, there are also IT disasters that are deliberately and maliciously caused by others, including cyberattacks and the theft or vandalism of IT hardware.

The worst effects of IT disasters are usually downtime and data loss. Downtime is whenever users cannot access their IT assets. As a result of downtime, customers may not be able to access your website or use your PoS or e-commerce system, and your employees may not be able to interact with customers or get any work done—so you will lose sales, lose customers, and your employees will fall behind in their work.

Data loss, meanwhile, is when the damage or theft of IT hardware, or the accidental or deliberate deletion of files, result in the active copies of files being lost. This will result in downtime as you restore the data from backups—or if you didn’t perform backups or the backups were lost or deleted in the same incident as the active copies, you will have permanently lost this data (potentially important, irreplaceable data, like customer contact and payment info, financial records, product specifications, and sales and marketing documents), which means that all of the productivity that went into the creation of this data will have been wasted, that it will be difficult for your business to operate until this data has been recreated or replaced, and that you will probably face fines for failing to maintain certain types of records.

Other, usually less severe effects of IT disasters include having to replace damaged or stolen IT hardware and the distraction it causes to IT staffers that have to put aside their normal duties in order to fix the problem.

Disaster recovery is the process of preventing and mitigating the effects of such disasters. A key component of disaster recovery is disaster recovery planning, in which an organization plans ahead for all potential IT disasters, figuring out what disaster recovery measures need to be implemented and how exactly it should respond to each type of disaster, as well assigning certain disaster recovery roles or tasks to specific employees. Common disaster recovery measures include:

Data backups. To back up data, you copy it to a separate device or medium, such as an external hard drive or DVD-R. Data backups are the most effective when data is backed up to a different location far away from where the original file is located, so they can’t be affected by the same localized disaster (storms, power outages, etc.).

Redundant and backup power. To ensure that you always have electrical power for your IT assets, you can set up accounts and connections with multiple power companies, so that you can continue accessing your IT assets even if one of your suppliers is experiencing an outage. You can also implement backup power solutions like uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) and gasoline generators.

Other redundancies. In addition to electrical power, you can also make other aspects of your IT setup redundant, including internet access, servers, storage devices, and networking equipment. For more information about the benefits of redundancy and what IT components can be made redundant, check out the Orbital Academy course, “What is redundancy?”

Physical security. To protect your IT hardware from being stolen, you can implement security measures such as locked and reinforced doors, alarm systems, and closed circuit surveillance cameras. If you can afford to, you can also implement advanced security measures like Iron Orbit does at our datacenters, including 24x7 onsite security guards, server cages, mantraps, and biometric access panels.

Complete offsite backup systems. Again, if you can afford to, you can set up an offsite backup system that is an exact duplicate of your active IT setup (if you have 20 desktop PCs and two servers at your office, for example, you will have either a physical backup site with 20 desktop PCs and two servers in a nearby city, or a hosted backup setup with 20 hosted desktops and two hosted servers that employees can access from any location they want). This will allow you to quickly return to work even if your office has been completely destroyed or is truly inaccessible, such as happened to many businesses during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

One of the big advantages of signing up for hosted services from a company like Iron Orbit instead setting up and managing your own onsite IT setup is that you don’t have to deal with some of the most complicated and expensive aspects of IT, including disaster recovery. In fact, many of the disaster recovery measures mentioned above, including offsite data backups, redundant and backup power, advanced physical security, and complete offsite backup systems, are too costly for many small-and-medium-sized (SMBs) to implement by themselves. Hosting providers like the Iron Orbit, however, have the budget and resources to implement these measures, and provide disaster recovery services to its clients at a minimal cost as a component of its hosted services.