How do you plan disaster recovery for a data center?

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.

Table of Contents

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:

Risk assessment

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.

Priority classification

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.

Incident response

Define procedures to detect, evaluate, and react to disruptive incidents and minimize immediate damage. Steps like automatic failover to standby systems may be included.

Recovery objectives

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.

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.

Data backups

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.

Staff responsibilities

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.

Analyze requirements

Identify critical systems, data, and services along with their tolerance for downtime. Consult stakeholders across business functions relying on the data center.

Assess risks

Document potential risks for your environment like earthquakes, power loss, malware etc. and probability/impact of occurrence.

Define priorities

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.

Develop procedures

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.

Assign responsibilities

Designate DR teams and individual responsibilities across detection, response, recovery, testing etc.

Formalize agreements

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:

Redundant infrastructure

Maintain redundant IT infrastructure – servers, storage, network links etc. – to takeover operations during failures. Keep redundant servers updated through replication.

Offsite backups

Store backups at geographically distant location not likely to be affected by same disaster as primary data center.

High availability

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.

Alternative workloads

Define minimum acceptable workload to sustain critical services when full capacity is unavailable during recovery.

Emergency procedures

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:

Geographic distance

The DR site should be sufficiently far away to avoid being affected by same disaster, but not too far to delay recovery.

Infrastructure support

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.

Co-location facility

Lease rack space in a shared colocation facility and deploy standby infrastructure. Cost effective for smaller data centers.

Cloud DR

Use disaster recovery services from public cloud providers. Quick to implement but can get expensive.

Reciprocal agreement

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.

Leverage virtualization

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.

Standardize processes

Standard procedures, configurations etc. across primary and DR site simplify maintenance and minimize errors during recovery.

Combine testing

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:

High costs

Substantial investment needed in resilient systems and backup infrastructure to meet RTOs and RPOs.

Coordinating teams

Getting participation from all stakeholders and alignment on priorities for systems, data, and services.

Regular testing

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.

Evolving threats

Disaster risks and business needs keep changing requiring regular plan updates.

Compliance requirements

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.

Automate failover

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.

Test realistically

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.