What is disaster recovery for IT systems?

Disaster recovery for IT systems refers to the policies, procedures and technologies needed to restore IT infrastructure and systems after a natural or human-induced disaster. The goal of disaster recovery is to minimize downtime and data loss when outages or failures occur.

Why is disaster recovery important for IT?

Disaster recovery is critical for IT systems and infrastructure for several reasons:

  • Minimizes downtime – Quick recovery after a disaster minimizes downtime and disruption to business operations. This helps maintain productivity and meet customer expectations.
  • Protects data – Comprehensive disaster recovery protects against data loss or corruption. This preserves critical business information and intellectual property.
  • Meets compliance – Regulations often mandate that organizations have disaster recovery plans to protect financial, medical or other sensitive data.
  • Reduces costs – Downtime and data loss can lead to significant recovery costs, lost revenue and damage to the business. Effective disaster recovery reduces these costs.
  • Maintains reputation – Quickly restoring systems after a disaster helps maintain customer confidence and brand reputation.

Without adequate disaster recovery, businesses risk lengthy outages, permanent data loss, non-compliance penalties, major financial costs and reputational damage after disruptive events.

What are the components of a disaster recovery plan?

A complete disaster recovery plan addresses the policies, procedures and technologies needed to protect IT systems and quickly restore them after a disaster. Key components include:

Risk assessment

A risk assessment identifies potential threats, vulnerabilities and risks to IT systems. This evaluation allows organizations to prioritize systems for recovery based on criticality.


Backups create extra copies of data and systems that can be used for recovery after data loss or corruption. Backup types include full, incremental, differential and cloud backups.

Data replication

Data replication constantly copies data to alternate sites in real-time or near-real-time. This protects data against localized failures or disasters.


Redundant infrastructure, such as failover servers, clustered storage and redundant power supplies, improves resilience and protects against component failures.


DR policies outline organizational responsibilities, procedures, timeframes and priorities for recovery. This includes defining RTOs and RPOs.

Alternate processing site

An alternate processing site outside the main location, such as a cold/warm/hot site, provides restoration capabilities after a disaster strikes the primary site.

Emergency response

Emergency response plans detail the immediate actions, resources and communications needed to assess, contain and initiate recovery after a disruptive event.


Regularly testing the disaster recovery plan identifies gaps, ensures IT staff is aware of their role, and improves plan effectiveness.

What disaster recovery solutions should I consider?

Organizations have several options for implementing disaster recovery protection and resiliency capabilities:

Cloud disaster recovery

Cloud DR solutions leverage public cloud computing resources to replicate data and systems and provide failover capabilities in case of disruption. Cloud DR offers flexibility, automation, and affordability.

Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)

DRaaS delivers disaster recovery tools and services through the cloud on a pay-per-use model. This eliminates the need to build and manage a secondary site.

Backup and recovery software

Backup software automates data protection tasks like incremental and cloud backups that can facilitate restores. Recovery software automates system restarts and failovers.

High availability systems

High availability clusters, redundant servers and fault tolerant hardware minimize or avoid downtime from localized failures.


Virtualized environments allow for automated failover between virtual machines and lower RTOs through features like live migration.

Dedicated disaster recovery site

Organizations can establish a dedicated hot, warm or cold DR site or recovery facility to restore operations after a disaster.

How do I develop a disaster recovery plan?

Developing a strong disaster recovery plan involves these key steps:

  1. Conduct a risk assessment – Document potential threats, vulnerabilities and impacts to determine disaster recovery priorities.
  2. Define requirements – Define RTOs and RPOs per system based on tolerance for downtime and data loss.
  3. Develop policies – Outline DR processes, roles and responsibilities across the organization.
  4. Design infrastructure – Architect the DR infrastructure to meet availability needs, using redundancy, backups, replication and alternate sites.
  5. Document procedures – Detail the step-by-step recovery procedures per system and scenario.
  6. Assign responsibilities – Identify DR teams, managers, stakeholders and their specific duties.
  7. Test the plan – Perform tabletop exercises and live tests to validate the plan’s effectiveness.
  8. Train staff – Educate employees on their role in the disaster recovery plan.
  9. Maintain the plan – Review and update the DR plan regularly to address changes.

What are RTO and RPO?

RTO (recovery time objective) and RPO (recovery point objective) are key metrics used to measure and define disaster recovery requirements:

  • RTO – The maximum tolerable downtime after a disruption. For example, “The RTO is 4 hours”.
  • RPO – The maximum amount of data loss acceptable during recovery. For example, “The RPO is 2 hours”.

RTO and RPO help organizations set disaster recovery priorities for their systems and data:

System RTO RPO
CRM platform 1 hour 15 minutes
Email server 4 hours 1 hour
File server 24 hours 12 hours

In this example, the CRM platform has the lowest RTO and RPO, indicating that it is the most critical system requiring the highest availability and data protection. The file server has the highest RTO and RPO, indicating it is a lower priority for recovery.

What are the steps in the disaster recovery process?

The disaster recovery process can be broken down into these key phases:

Incident response

The incident response phase focuses on assessing damage, containing the disruption, communicating status to stakeholders and launching initial recovery steps.

Recovery restoration

Restoration involves executing the detailed disaster recovery plans to recover infrastructure, systems, applications, data and services at either the original or alternate site.

Functionality validation

Once systems are restored, validation testing is performed to confirm recovered IT components are functioning properly without issues or data loss.


Reconstitution aims to restore normal operations at the original primary location and failback production to the normal site if an alternate location was used.

Plan improvement

Finally, the disaster recovery plan should be updated based on lessons learned from the disaster, tests and employee feedback to continuous improve effectiveness.

How often should disaster recovery plans be tested?

Disaster recovery plans should be tested frequently to validate their effectiveness. Some best practices include:

  • Annual comprehensive tests – Perform a full test of all major plan components annually.
  • Semi-annual plan testing – Test subsets of the DR plan every 6 months.
  • Quarterly tabletop exercises – Conduct tabletop discussions of disaster scenarios every quarter.
  • Monthly testing of backups – Validate backups and restorability every month.
  • Weekly testing of high availability – Failover high availability configurations weekly.

Testing should cover different disaster scenarios, range from simple discussion-based tabletop exercises to full operational disruptions and cutovers. More frequent testing is recommended for mission critical systems or high risk threats.

What are some common disaster recovery testing mistakes?

Some frequent mistakes organizations make when testing disaster recovery plans include:

  • Not testing frequently enough
  • Focusing too much on full tests versus modular testing
  • Failing to test all major DR plan components
  • Not updating the plan after tests
  • Letting DR infrastructure fall out of date
  • Not getting involvement from key stakeholders
  • Not communicating test results effectively
  • Testing during peak hours or maintenance windows
  • Not having clear test success criteria

Avoiding these common missteps allows organizations to maximize the value of DR testing and improveconfidence in their ability to recover from disasters.

What are some key disaster recovery metrics and KPIs?

Metrics are essential for evaluating the effectiveness of disaster recovery plans and improving them over time. Key disaster recovery metrics and KPIs include:

  • RTO and RPO results – Measures recovery time and data loss against targets during tests.
  • Recovery point actual – The actual data loss measured during recovery tests.
  • Recovery time actual – The actual recovery duration measured during tests.
  • Availability – The percentage of normal uptime during disasters and recovery.
  • Number of tests – Tracks the volume and frequency of DR testing.
  • Test coverage – The percentage of DR plan components tested.
  • Plan updating frequency – How often the DR plan and procedures are updated.
  • Employee training frequency – How regularly staff are trained on DR procedures.

Tracking these KPIs helps identify gaps in disaster recovery strategies and drive continuous improvements over time.

What are some common disaster recovery mistakes?

Some frequent disaster recovery mistakes include:

  • No DR planning at all
  • Incomplete or inadequate DR plans
  • Failure to properly test plans
  • Lack of executive sponsorship
  • Not training employees on DR
  • Outdated recovery infrastructure
  • Focusing only on natural disasters
  • Forgetting about suppliers and customers
  • Unclear RTOs and RPOs
  • Complex plans difficult to execute

Avoiding these pitfalls helps ensure organizations have effective, comprehensive and actionable disaster recovery plans in place.


Robust disaster recovery capabilities are crucial for minimizing disruptions and maintaining business continuity when major outages or disasters strike IT infrastructure. Comprehensive DR planning, testing and maintenance is essential. By leveraging the latest DR solutions and following best practices around backup, redundancy, policies and testing, organizations can implement successful disaster recovery programs that reduce downtime, prevent data loss and support overall resilience.