Tip

How to create a business continuity plan

What you will learn from this tip: In today's business environment, the only acceptable data loss is none at all. Find out how to create a business continuity plan that really works.

Effective data backup is becoming increasingly difficult as institutions become less centralized, adopt hardware running a variety of operating systems, have more remote computer users and depend more heavily on information.

As a result, IT departments are now looking to back up not just mainframe systems and applications, but also data from workstations, notebooks, PC LANs and application servers, regardless of their operating systems. They also want to reduce the downtime while data is being backed up, as well as the amount of time it takes to recover from a system failure.

Whether the cause of the data loss is a disk crash, power outage, a virus, or even accidental deletion, gigabytes of data and weeks, or even months, of work are in jeopardy. The key to ensuring ongoing survival in the face of data loss is the development and implementation of an appropriate business continuity plan that takes into account which organizational functions are critical, which steps are necessary to survive without them and which resources are available to help recover lost or damaged systems. Without a suitable continuity plan, lost data might beimpossible to retrieve, and in a world that's defined by data, irreversible data loss is simply unacceptable.

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Continuity planning can itself be an onerous task, requiring extensive thought and comprehensive implementation. Each business continuity plan should be designed to meet the particular needs and requirements of the institution. You can either back up your hard disk or risk losing your data, your setup and your applications. But whatever method you choose, it's important that you put a disaster recovery plan in place and use it.

A solid business continuity plan will include, at a minimum, the following elements:

  • A review and assessment of the institution's existing contingency arrangements and practices.
  • Details of dependency levels on each resource in the organization.
  • Recommendations on what steps are required to improve the existing plan.
  • A framework for a fully-developed and appropriate continuity and recovery plan.

Continuity planning should include development of strategies capable of meeting quick fix, partial replacement, full redundancy or replacement and possible outsourcing. It's also important to remember that the information contained in a business/service continuity plan must be kept alive because organizations are constantly changing: Departments are acquired, merged and divested; new operations and processes begin, while others cease; people leave, are hired or are promoted; commitments and supplier relationships change; locations change; responsibilities change; priorities change. You cannot rely on outdated information.

Continuity planning not only provides a clear and comprehensive statement of actions to be taken before, during and after a disaster to minimize its impact, it also offers a certain level of comfort in knowing that when a catastrophe occurs it won't result in complete disaster.

Ensuring that mission critical operations continue on a day-to-day basis is the only real way of nailing down your institution's ability to conduct daily activities as usual after data loss, and understanding what information needs to be backed up plays a critical role.

About the author: Doug Owens is director CBL Data Recovery Technology Inc.'s San Diego laboratory and the data recovery firm's resident tape expert.

This was first published in April 2005

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