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Volume 30, Issue 2

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Publishing your DR assumptions as tactical policies is critical to your DR budget, your DR architecture, your DR plan – and your career survival after a disaster

Assumptions can have a critical impact on the plan itself, on the budget for the plan, and even the ability to actually execute the plan. The assumptions made in planning disaster recovery often include the extent of the disaster, the survival of transportation infrastructure, the survival or availability of recovery staff as well as many other assumptions that will directly impact your plan and your DR architecture. By identifying and publishing these assumptions up front, senior management can review and signoff on the impact on the plan and the budget as a result of the stated assumptions. Inevitably, the assumptions identified and published become a defacto tactical policy set that provides the foundation philosophy for DR planning.

Many misunderstandings can be avoided by bringing assumptions to the forefront of DR planning. By publishing those assumptions, those involved in DR understand the basis of the planning effort and alignment is facilitated throughout the development of the DR plan. It is often sad but true that the only DR involvement of many management and staff occurs after the disaster, and then with blinding 20/20 hindsight. Even in the more mature and sophisticated organization, it is essential to make clear what is covered and what is not, what is in scope and what is out of scope.

Four Common DR Assumptions
How can an assumption have such importance? Consider the assumption that current staff will a) survive the disaster event, and b) be prepared or capable of coming to work. Even more organizations assume that during a disaster staff will leave their families and come in to execute the DR plan. As we learned from the Katrina event, even public safety staff may choose to put their own families ahead of the DR plan.
The impact of this assumption has frightening consequences in cost of recovery. An assumption that staff will not necessarily be available to execute the DR plan means that there can be a very considerable additional cost to automate the recovery or to build in the training and documentation levels needed for qualified staff flown in from another location.

That brings up the second important assumption, that transportation infrastructure survives the disaster and remains operational. It didn’t in both 911 and Katrina. If the DR site is sufficiently distanced, then there may be problems in transporting willing staff to the DR locations. Transport infrastructure failures may also impact your ability to retrieve off site media. And for those utilizing third-party DR services, your ability to get to the target DR site (or its alternate) and your ability to redirect recovery media to the target location may be delayed or even impossible.

The third assumption we need to get out in the open is the assumption about the nature of the disasters that we are planning to protect against. Recovering to a building two blocks away may indeed provide a level of DR, as did recovering to the second tower at the WTC in New York. However, it is critical that the assumption on which the DR plan is based be published. That assumption must state the fact that this DR plan will protect only against an event resulting in denial of access to the target building. Any disaster that impacts an area beyond that building will not be covered. Ice storms, major power infrastructure failure, floods and fires can impact the radius that includes the DR site and the Target site.

An assumption that business volumes will remain static is another a key assumption. In a disaster, will business volumes really stay the same? Will they decrease? Or will the event actually cause an increase in transactions? This assumption will either impact the architecture at the DR site or worse, result in a failure to support operational viability in a post disaster situation.

Other Assumptions to Consider
We have discussed only four of many assumptions that are made, sometimes unknowingly, in the development of a DR plan. The ability for rapid replenishment or replacement of hardware is another assumption that can have a huge impact on recovery should the underlying assumption be unsupported by proven and contractual capabilities.

Other assumptions often made include the use of repurposed hardware that assumes the organization can do without the development environment for extended periods. Depending on the nature of the business, development may be a key component of business viability. The assumption that operations will return to the original site in a time frame supported by the DR site facility is another that may prove unsupported.

Conclusion
It is important to really think through the assumptions, both explicit and implicit, that may impact the execution of your DR plan. Getting these assumptions out into the harsh daylight of senior management’s review before budgeting for or developing your DR plan is critical. It is critical not only to the ability of your organization to survive a disaster, but also to your own ability to survive the post disaster review. Assuming you survived the disaster.

Dick Benton brings many years experience in the role of technology governance and disaster recovery consulting. He has written extensively on these subjects in industry magazines and has helped numerous clients to develop business aligned DR strategies. Benton is currently employed by GlassHouse Technologies as a principal consultant. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..