Six Steps to Disaster Recovery

By Coleman, Randall | Security Management, February 1993 | Go to article overview
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Six Steps to Disaster Recovery


Coleman, Randall, Security Management


IN RECENT YEARS THE ATTITUDE OF business management toward disaster recovery planning has changed. For many years, the only companies that did anything to ward off business interruption were those dependent on mainframe computers. Most organizations took the this-cannot-happen-to-us approach. Today, companies realize that a serious disaster can cripple a business.

As PCs, workstations, and local area networks (LANs) have become more prevalent, industry has also begun to realize that data center recovery plans alone are not enough. A comprehensive, corporate-wide approach, known as business recovery planning, is required.

Approaches to business recovery planning are as varied as the organizations that use them. Some recovery planners attempt to identify and incorporate into their plans every possible threat to an organization's welfare, including floods, fires, earthquakes, snow storms, terrorism, vandalism, and power outages. While this all-encompassing approach is frequently used, it can seem daunting when time is limited and resources are stretched. One organization that has taken a different approach to recovery planning is Textron Financial Corporation (TFC), the commercial financial service subsidiary of the $8-billion Textron, Inc., based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Dave Raspallo, director of receivable systems, is responsible for TFC's recovery planning effort. He says his organization tried to follow the multi-threat approach initially but found that managers were overwhelmed by the prospect of planning for every possible calamity. Instead, Raspallo devised a simplified approach that encompasses four levels of business interruption or consequences that could result from disasters, as follows:

* Level one--Building destroyed or unusable for business activity

* Level two--One or more floors unusable, but recovery possible within building

* Level three--A single company department lost, but recovery possible within building

* Level four--A single function or workstation lost, but recovery possible on same floor

"Whether the threat is fire, flood, or whatever, this approach takes the view that there are many threats but only a few levels of disruption," Raspallo says. "Whether we were wiped out by a fire or knocked down by an earthquake, the consequence would be the same--a level one emergency. Sure, it's possible to plan for the most likely disasters, and many organizations do it that way. But it takes a tremendous amount of time, and you can never plan for every potential threat."

Under both the threat-specific and level-of-disruption approach, business recovery planning methods should view the data processing center as a utility or service, like electricity, water telephone, and gas. These utilities, including data processing, support the critical business functions of an organization.

If a utility fails, it is the responsibility of the utility provider to restore service. However, a business is probably not going to close its doors and wait until the utility restores power. The managers will find an alternative source of power or a site that has power. The same should be true for data processing.

Viewing the data processing function as a utility puts it into perspective for recovery planning purposes. It forces an organization to look at all the business operations it supports and to design what-if scenarios that encompass these vital services.

A key part of business recovery planning is the development of an organization-wide contingency plan that takes into account every critical function of the business, including manual paper-based systems. Since many major organizations today are either true multinational corporations or have significant international ties, it is also vital to consider the geographic scope of the organization in the business recovery plan. Is the plan concerned with a disaster affecting single, multiple, regional, or even international operations?

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