How do you plan disaster recovery for a data center?

Disaster recovery planning is a critical process for any data center to ensure business continuity. The goal is to create a plan that enables the recovery of IT operations and data in the case of a disruption or disaster. This involves identifying risks, establishing recovery strategies, and documenting procedures to follow in the event of an emergency.

What are the key elements of a disaster recovery plan?

An effective disaster recovery plan will address these key elements:

  • Business impact analysis – Evaluate potential risks and impacts to operations and data if systems and infrastructure are unavailable.
  • Recovery strategies – Define strategies such as redundant infrastructure, backups, alternative sites, and more to recover IT systems and data.
  • Emergency response procedures – Document steps to detect, assess, and react to disruptions. Define emergency decision chains and actions to take.
  • Communication and management procedures – Specify who gets notified, how, and when. Define roles and responsibilities.
  • Testing plan – Schedule periodic disaster simulation tests. Use results to evaluate and update the plan.

How do you identify and assess risks?

A risk assessment is key to understanding potential threats and impacts to operations. This involves:

  • Identifying risks – Brainstorm possible threats such as natural disasters, human errors, hardware failures, cyber attacks, and more.
  • Estimating likelihood – Determine how likely identified risks are to occur based on factors like location, past incidents, and preventative measures.
  • Assessing impacts – Evaluate the potential impact for each risk across factors like operations, data loss, recovery time, and finances.
  • Prioritizing – Rank risks by severity to focus recovery planning on minimizing high priority threats.

Tools like risk matrices, annualized loss expectancy (ALE) calculations, and data classification methods can provide deeper insights into impacts and probabilities.

What strategies enable disaster recovery?

Common disaster recovery strategies include:

  • Redundant infrastructure – Maintain spare or replicated components like backup power supplies, redundant servers and storage, and secondary network links.
  • Regular backups – Perform frequent backup of critical data and systems to enable restore from backup.
  • Alternative sites – Establish alternate processing sites or failover capabilities to other data centers.
  • Emergency response – Define emergency procedures like system failover, damage assessment, and escalations.
  • Insurance – Maintain policies to cover costs associated with disasters and recovery efforts.

The specific strategies used will depend on the risks identified and recovery time and point objectives for the organization.

How do you set recovery time and point objectives?

Recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) metrics are key for defining disaster recovery goals:

  • RTO – The maximum acceptable time to restore operations after a disruption.
  • RPO – The maximum acceptable period of lost data from a disruption.

Factors to consider when setting RTO and RPO:

  • Business needs – How soon must IT systems and data be restored to avoid unacceptable impacts?
  • Cost – Lower RTO and RPO requirements generally increase costs.
  • Risk assessment – Higher risks may dictate more aggressive RTO and RPO targets.
  • Data criticality – More critical data may require shorter RPO.
  • Resource constraints – Capabilities, staff, and budget can limit how low RTO and RPO can reasonably be set.

What should an emergency response plan include?

Key elements of an emergency response plan include:

  • Emergency procedures – Steps for disaster detection, assessment, declaration, plan activation, and escalations.
  • Recovery teams – Personnel roles and responsibilities for managing response and recovery.
  • Communications plan – Process for internal and external notifications, status updates, and coordination.
  • Life support – Procedures for protecting human life and safety.
  • Damage assessment – Instructions for inspecting and documenting damage to facilities, infrastructure, and data.
  • Recovery operations – Sequence for restoring infrastructure components and critical systems to meet RTO.
  • Reconstitution plan – Steps for fully restoring operations, facilities, and systems.

Emergency operation procedures, contact lists, equipment and vendor info, floor plans, and checklists are also useful inclusions.

What should the testing plan include?

A disaster recovery testing plan should outline:

  • Test objectives – Goals for testing like validating recovery procedures, measuring performance, and identifying gaps.
  • Test frequency – How often disaster simulations will be performed, such as annually.
  • Test types – Strategies like walkthroughs, tabletop exercises, parallel testing, and full simulations.
  • Scenarios – Specific disasters to test, focusing on high risks.
  • Responsibilities – Roles for planning, executing, and evaluating tests.
  • Metrics – Criteria for measuring test results against RTO, RPO, and other objectives.
  • Reports – Formats for documenting test procedures, results, and recommendations.

Frequent testing and plan updating is key to maintaining readiness over time as risks and resources evolve.

How can you minimize disruption from power loss?

Strategies for minimizing disruption from power loss include:

  • Redundant utility feeds from separate substations.
  • On-site backup generators with adequate fuel supply.
  • Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to bridge gaps.
  • Regular preventative maintenance for electrical systems.
  • Monitoring and alerts for power anomalies.
  • Prioritized shutdown procedures for non-essential systems.
  • Testing generators under load conditions.
Power Loss Mitigation Strategy Description
Redundant utility feeds Separate data center from single point of failure by having diverse power feeds from separate substations.
On-site generators Have backup generators on-site with ample fuel supply to power data center for extended outages.
UPS systems Uninterruptible power supplies act as buffer to smooth power fluctuations and provide backup power for short term outages.
Preventative maintenance Proactively maintain electrical infrastructure to minimize chances of failure.
Power monitoring Monitor power status for early detection of anomalies and auto-trigger safe shutdowns.
Prioritized shutdowns Define procedures for graceful shutdown of non-essential systems to extend UPS backup time for critical systems.
Generator testing Periodically test generators while under load conditions to verify ability to support data center.

What procedures help recover from IT equipment failure?

Procedures to help recover from failed IT infrastructure include:

  • Redundant servers, storage, and network devices to avoid single point of failure.
  • Clustering critical systems for high availability failover.
  • Scheduled backups to tape or disk that can be used for recovery.
  • Defined escalation procedures for rapidly engaging support and maintenance.
  • Spare parts or equipment replacement service contracts and SLAs.
  • Prioritization matrix identifying order of restoration for systems.
  • Documented processes for rebuilding configurations on replacement hardware.
  • Regular preventative maintenance to minimize equipment failures.

Recovery can be accelerated by leveraging automation, virtualization, and tools like server deployment software when rebuilding systems.

How can you protect against cyber attacks or data corruption?

Key practices for protecting against cyber attacks and data corruption:

  • Harden systems and infrastructure through best practices like least privilege, patching, firewalls, and access controls.
  • Encrypt sensitive data in transit and at rest.
  • Perform regular vulnerability testing and pen testing to identify gaps.
  • Implement intrusion detection and prevention systems to spot threats.
  • Filter incoming traffic and payloads to detect and block malware.
  • Validate data integrity through checksums, signatures, and encryption.
  • Preserve data integrity with RAID, replication, backups, and snapshots.
  • Provide cybersecurity training to educate staff on threats and responsibilities.
  • Carry cyber insurance policies to help cover costs of security incidents.

How can alternate or backup sites aid recovery?

Alternate sites and backups enable systems and data recovery by providing redundancy outside the main data center footprint. Strategies include:

  • Mirrored data center – A duplicate data center in a different geographic location that can take over operations.
  • Hot/warm/cold sites – Standby facilities with various levels of pre-provisioned infrastructure.
  • Cloud-based failover – Leveraging Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to failover into the cloud.
  • Workload portability – Tools to migrate virtualized workloads between sites.
  • Secure backups – Air-gapped, encrypted, and redundant data backups in multiple locations.

The alternate site strategy should align with RTO and RPO objectives, balancing cost, complexity, and recovery speed.

How can you document disaster recovery procedures?

Effective practices for documenting disaster recovery procedures include:

  • Establishing standard templates for consistency.
  • Defining clear scope and objectives.
  • Outlining sequence of operations in detail.
  • Assigning roles and responsibilities to specific teams and people.
  • Listing specific equipment, systems, and materials needed.
  • Including checklists for execution and validation.
  • Using diagrams and visual aids where appropriate.
  • Specifying notification and escalation contacts.
  • Providing examples and sample forms.
  • Reviewing regularly and updating as environments evolve.

Procedures should be comprehensive yet easy to follow during high-stress disaster events. Publication in hardcopy and electronic formats can enable access when systems are down.

How can you keep DR plans current over time?

Maintaining relevance of disaster recovery plans involves:

  • Periodic plan reviews and updates, such as annually.
  • Change management discipline to update plans when environments change.
  • Version control for plan documents.
  • Revalidation of recovery procedures through testing.
  • Monitoring of internal and external threats for changes.
  • Measuring performance during incidents to identify improvements.
  • Regularly reviewing and revising scope based on new technologies and business priorities.
  • Evaluating plans against industry best practices for gaps.
  • Maintaining contacts and credentials list.
  • Re-approval processes for updated plans.

Disaster recovery plans should be treated as living documents, with versioning and structured review processes to keep them aligned with evolving business recovery requirements.


Developing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan is crucial for minimizing disruptions and rebuilding operations in the event of a catastrophe. By identifying risks, implementing mitigation strategies, documenting detailed procedures, and diligently testing plans, organizations can gain confidence in their ability to withstand and recover from disaster scenarios.

Disaster recovery planning is an ongoing process. Plans must be kept evergreen through periodic reviews, testing, training, and updating as environments and needs evolve. With careful planning, companies can build resilience and protect stakeholders from catastrophic data center failures.