Having a solid disaster recovery plan is crucial for any data center to ensure business continuity and resilience in the face of disruptions like natural disasters, cyber attacks, or technical failures. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to develop an effective disaster recovery strategy for a data center.
What is disaster recovery and why is it important for a data center?
Disaster recovery (DR) refers to the strategies and plans in place to restore IT operations and infrastructure after a disruption. It focuses on ensuring critical systems and data remain available or can be restored quickly. For a data center, disaster recovery is vital because downtime can mean huge financial losses due to inability to serve customers.
A data center houses mission-critical systems and data for an organization. Any disruption to its operations impacts business productivity and services. A disaster recovery plan minimizes this disruption by defining policies, procedures, and resources needed to assess damage, repair systems, recover data, and restore services after an incident.
Having a DR strategy means the data center can continue serving its core function with minimal interruption. It improves resilience and saves costs compared to having to rebuild from scratch after a disaster.
Elements of an effective data center disaster recovery plan
An effective DR plan is comprehensive – covering prevention, response, and recovery. Key elements include:
The first step is analyzing potential risks that can cause downtime like natural disasters common in the region, power outages, network failures, human errors, cyber attacks, or system malfunctions. Higher risks require more investment in disaster recovery.
Not all systems and data are equally critical. The plan should classify IT resources based on priority for recovery after a disaster. Resources supporting critical services get highest priority.
Define procedures to detect, evaluate, and react to disruptive incidents and minimize immediate damage. Steps like automatic failover to standby systems may be included.
Set RTOs and RPOs i.e. maximum acceptable duration and data loss for resource/service recovery after an outage. Lower RTOs and RPOs require greater investment in resilient backup systems.
Establish resilient backup systems like redundant servers, storage, and network links located offsite to avoid being affected by the same disaster as primary infrastructure.
Implement appropriate data backup mechanisms like snapshots, remote replication, and tapes – aligned with RPOs for different priority data. Test restoration from backups regularly.
Alternative processing site
Designate a standby processing site with sufficient compute, storage, and network capacities to restore mission critical workloads if the primary data center is unavailable.
Define roles and responsibilities of staff during disaster response – who oversees recovery, liaisons with partners/vendors, manages failover, restores systems from backup etc.
Third party agreements
Have pre-negotiated contracts with partners to support disaster recovery – like equipment vendors, software vendors, data recovery experts, alternative facility providers etc.
Testing & updates
Test the DR plan regularly through simulated disaster scenarios and update it as IT infrastructure evolves.
How to get started on data center disaster recovery planning?
Follow these steps for effective disaster recovery planning:
Build a team
Assemble a DR planning committee with representatives from technical teams like systems, network, security, data management etc. as well as management.
Identify critical systems, data, and services along with their tolerance for downtime. Consult stakeholders across business functions relying on the data center.
Document potential risks for your environment like earthquakes, power loss, malware etc. and probability/impact of occurrence.
Categorize systems, services, and data into priority tiers for recovery based on criticality for business operations.
Establish recovery objectives
Define RTOs and RPOs for each recovery tier aligned with needs and get management approval.
Detail step-by-step procedures for disaster response, system/data recovery, and service restoration for each priority tier.
Implement resilient infrastructure
Get appropriate disaster recovery systems and backups to meet defined RTOs and RPOs for each priority tier.
Designate DR teams and individual responsibilities across detection, response, recovery, testing etc.
Establish contracts with partners for alternate facilities, equipment supply, fuel supply etc. crucial for disaster recovery.
Test the plan
Validate the effectiveness of disaster recovery plan through tests and simulate different scenarios.
Iterate and update
Use learnings from tests to improve the plan. Review and update it periodically as technology infrastructure evolves.
Critical disaster recovery strategies for a data center
Some key strategies to enable data center disaster recovery include:
Maintain redundant IT infrastructure – servers, storage, network links etc. – to takeover operations during failures. Keep redundant servers updated through replication.
Store backups at geographically distant location not likely to be affected by same disaster as primary data center.
Use high availability infrastructure like compute clusters to minimize disruption from localized failures.
Virtual machines can be recovered faster than physical servers. Maintain virtual machine images as backups.
Define minimum acceptable workload to sustain critical services when full capacity is unavailable during recovery.
Document and validate emergency response procedures for events like fire, flood, bomb threat etc.
How to choose a disaster recovery site for a data center?
The disaster recovery site hosts systems to restore IT operations when the primary data center is inaccessible. Consider these factors while selecting a DR site:
The DR site should be sufficiently far away to avoid being affected by same disaster, but not too far to delay recovery.
DR site should have reliable power, cooling, and network connectivity to run required workloads.
It should have adequate compute, storage, and networking capacity to host critical systems.
DR site must provide robust physical and cyber security equivalent to primary data center.
High speed redundant connectivity is needed between primary and DR site for replication.
The site must be accessible for staff to restore and manage systems during disaster scenario.
Balance DR capability improvement versus cost of leasing or owning alternative site and links.
What are the alternatives for data center disaster recovery site?
Here are some options for establishing a disaster recovery site:
Dedicated standby site
Maintain a dedicated standby data center fully equipped for DR with mirrored infrastructure and regular data replication from primary site.
Lease rack space in a shared colocation facility and deploy standby infrastructure. Cost effective for smaller data centers.
Use disaster recovery services from public cloud providers. Quick to implement but can get expensive.
Partner with another organization to use each other’s data center as standby in case of disaster. Cost effective but capacity may be limited.
Managed DR services
Contract a specialist disaster recovery firm to provide failover infrastructure in case of disaster. Reduces overhead of maintaining DR site.
How can you optimize costs for data center disaster recovery?
Strategies to optimize DR costs include:
Prioritize systems strategically
Lower RTOs and RPOs only for most critical rather than all systems to reduce infrastructure duplication.
Use non-mission critical systems first
When restoring services, bring non-critical systems online first to validate recovery process before critical ones.
Virtual machines simplify failover and require less redundant infrastructure than physical servers.
Utilize cloud backups
Cloud based backup that charges per usage can offer lower costs than investing in physical backup systems.
Standard procedures, configurations etc. across primary and DR site simplify maintenance and minimize errors during recovery.
Club disaster recovery testing with other scheduled outages to maximize utilization of downtime.
Evaluate insurance options
Insurance covering disaster recovery costs can offset expenses but evaluate cost benefit carefully.
Explore tax incentives
Some jurisdictions offer tax benefits to organizations investing in approved disaster recovery systems.
Challenges in implementing disaster recovery for a data center
Some key challenges faced include:
Substantial investment needed in resilient systems and backup infrastructure to meet RTOs and RPOs.
Getting participation from all stakeholders and alignment on priorities for systems, data, and services.
Testing DR plans causes downtimes and can disrupt operations. But lack of testing reduces confidence in effectiveness.
Disaster recovery for modern virtualized, cloud based environments involves many interdependent systems.
Dependence on vendors
Heavy reliance on vendor support for proprietary platforms and scarcity of experts during crisis periods.
Disaster risks and business needs keep changing requiring regular plan updates.
Adhering to regulatory compliance for business continuity and data protection adds constraints.
Best practices for data center disaster recovery planning
Some key best practices include:
Get executive approval
Secure management endorsement and budget for disaster recovery upfront before starting development.
Involve multiple teams
Collaborate with leaders across infrastructure, operations, security, risk etc. for comprehensive planning.
Align to business needs
Tailor recovery objectives and investments to specific business requirements and priorities.
Consider supplier readiness
Evaluate ability of equipment suppliers, infrastructure vendors etc. to support execution of disaster recovery plan.
Factor in supply chain risks
Account for external service provider failures which can hamper recovery even when internal systems are intact.
Automated failover for critical workloads minimizes reliance on human intervention during disasters.
Use cloud selectively
Combine cloud systems with on-premise infrastructure to balance recovery agility with customization flexibility.
Isolate backup systems
Keep backup infrastructure physically and logically separate from primary data center to avoid single point of failure.
Perform testing on copies of production data to simulate realistic conditions during actual disaster.
Robust disaster recovery capability is crucial for minimizing disruption to data center operations from increasingly likely disasters. The detailed plan should align investments in resilient infrastructure and processes with business priorities for recovery after outages. Regular testing and reviews are key to keep improving effectiveness of the disaster recovery plan as technology and risk landscape evolves.