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Tuesday, 30 October 2007 05:26

Facing Reality: Successful Disaster Recovery Is All About Managing Unexpected Situations

Written by  Michael Pearce
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Organizations committed to successful disaster recovery really know for the first time that their program will work when they actually face a crisis. It's really the first and only time to see if they're truly ready! Their goal is, in almost every case, to reclaim the pre-event condition called "normal."

Some organizations (thankfully fewer and fewer) have little but luck on their side, as they have yet to embrace the power of a sound disaster recovery program.

These organizations, it has been shown over and over, face the stark reality that they will never recover. In these uncertain times, they have chosen the path that is perhaps the most certain of all-their demise!

Industry statistics are now over a decade in scope and those who continue to believe that nothing will happen, or if something does, someone else (like their vendors) will race to their rescue and save the day, couldn't be more in error. Theirs is a lost cause.

For those committed to disaster recovery, it's also a time for a wake-up call. In spite of the statistics, which show:
Many still base disaster recovery on a number of misconceptions. Among them, we still have rehearsals designed with the goal of returning to a state of normalcy. It has been said and rightly so, that no organization suffering a disaster will ever return to the pre-event state of bliss we call normal.

In fact, normal becomes redefined. While we can reestablish the physical plant approaching a reasonable approximation of the pre-event condition, the people impacted will have a new normalcy, one which incorporates their emotions as a result of the event.

To a large extent, they will be different people-behaving differently with a new and different set of personal priorities, expectations and goals. Adjusting to meet this new reality is key to the phase that comes immediately after survival-full recovery.

Many organizations view their disaster recovery effort as data center oriented, and to be sure, we are all evermore reliant on our IT capability. And yet the single points of failure that are human-response based are exponentially greater than those that are technology based.

The fact is that if we have the necessary infrastructure available and a well rehearsed, well documented plan, recovering the technology will be the easiest part of the equation. The one that is most certain to be achieved successfully. The risks are in being able to predict our employees behavior successfully. Do they know what is expected of them and can/will they perform?

As we said earlier, the proof unfortunately lies in experiencing the crisis. But regular, thorough, ambitious rehearsal exercises can and will prove to be invaluable in mitigating the impact of unpredictable behavior.

The experiences show that well documented, well rehearsed, organizationally inclusive plans allow businesses to focus on the surprises-and there will be many! Those without a well rehearsed, well documented plan are often overwhelmed by the enormity of the surprises generated by the survival/recovery mission, and they simply fail.

Many organizations view the disaster recovery commitment as a key insurance policy. This emphasis reduces the value of disaster recovery. Disaster recovery is not simply a key insurance policy, it represents, in the truest sense, an organization's assurance that it has the ability to continue to meet its commitments no matter what!
Another common misperception is that disaster recovery is about being able to manage the impact of typhoons and tornadoes.

More precisely, it is and should be about the ability to meet our organizations commitments-it's really about reliability, consistency and dependability.

Disaster recovery can be a differentiating factor in a highly competitive world.

It is a part of any quality conscious organization's commitment to their stakeholders-their investors, employees, customers and suppliers.

Disaster recovery is not as much about catastrophe as it is about being able to successfully manage unexpected situations across a wide spectrum of potential events, any of which may cause an organization to miss one or more of its commitments-and lost market share is as tough to reclaim and is lost credibility.

A well documented, well rehearsed company-wide plan is fundamental to achieving success. History has shown that every recovery is much different than the plan anticipated-and this is how it should be. Successful plans allow organizations to focus on the unexpected, to implement modifications necessary to reclaim control.

The primary emphasis of any potentially successful plan is that it provides a sufficiently clear roadmap so that everyone on the team knows when they are deviating, if and when they do.

It allows for and expects flexibility, responsiveness and innovation. In its most fundamental form, it is a powerful document empowering employees to make the decisions necessary for their organization's survival and position them for eventual recovery.

Disaster recovery should not be confused with security. Attention to security may help avoid some unexpected events, but security is a small, albeit, important part of survival-it does not assure survival.

One of the most critical aspects of survival/recovery today is to recognize when one is actually experiencing a disaster.

Again, too many define disasters emotionally-If I drive up to my building and it is a smoldering heap, I will immediately know we've had a disaster. True enough, but far too limited in scope.

In today's fast-paced environment, a LAN failure can be as catastrophic as a tornado. A critical part of successful recovery is that the organization's plan defines a disaster-Disasters for our company are when we cannot meet the service level agreements we've committed to for X period of time.

No matter what the field engineer says, no matter how soon the promise of normal functionality, if you are not active within the policies timetable, an unanticipated event declaration should be issued and recovery according to the plan begun.

Too many organizations relegate their disaster recovery capability to supporting only horrific natural disasters when, in fact, it can, should be and is for many companies a proven resource just waiting to be tested under the glare of reality.

There is little reason to invent new processes and procedures under the immediate threat of nonperformance when a tested capability-the disaster recovery plan-is readily at hand.

Viewed accordingly, disaster recovery is not an expense associated with an unlikely catastrophe.

It is a prudent investment, offsetting the impact of the inevitable, and a significant resource.

Michael Pearce is an account manager for Weyerhaeuser Recovery Services.

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