What is IT disaster recovery?

A photograph of men and women sitting around a table with laptops and notebooks. They are all smiling and looking at a man standing and giving a presentation.

If your server goes down, do you know how to get your systems running again?

What happens to your data if your facility is damaged or unreachable?

What do you do when your business productivity drops because your IT system is down?

IT disaster recovery answers questions like these, allowing you to respond to system failures and minimize downtime. Downtime costs your business time, data, profits, and your company’s reputation.

Understanding what is involved in disaster recovery can help you construct an effective disaster recovery plan and address possible outages and issues in the future.

For over 25 years, WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients identify risks, develop IT disaster recovery plans, and recover clients’ data and systems.

By the end of this article, you will know what constitutes an IT disaster, how IT disaster recovery helps, and what IT disaster recovery looks like in action.

 

What is an IT disaster?

An IT disaster can be defined as anything that brings your critical IT systems offline. These events can range from natural disasters to someone accidentally unplugging a server.

If it causes your IT systems (and, subsequently, your business) to shut down, it’s considered an “IT disaster.” Possible disasters include:

  • Natural or unnatural disasters that damage your facilities or equipment
  • Cyberattacks (i.e., ransomware)
  • Hardware, software, or network failures
  • Deleting critical data

 

How does IT disaster recovery help?

If you are familiar with cybersecurity frameworks, you will know that “recover” is the final step of the cybersecurity cycle. When crisis strikes, you need a way to restore your data and systems so your business productivity continues.

If you have planned for a disaster scenario, this process is much faster than if you had not planned and prepared for it.

IT recovery works to bring your system back online and restore its data and functionality.

If a crisis wipes your system memory, corrupts files, or removes valuable software or data, disaster recovery works to restore the missing pieces.

These processes will utilize either backups, IT continuity, or a combination of the two to restore the system.

IT backups

IT backups focus on protecting data and are “snapshots” of systems or files in a specific place in time. Backups will either be in single file format or “image backup” format, based on your chosen backup system.

File backups are individually saved files. They do not include programs, settings, or operating systems. File backups save your data, but you must take extra time to restore applications and settings.

On the other hand, image backups contain a snapshot of your entire system when it was saved. While this can still take time to activate, it is faster than file backups because the applications and settings are plug-and-play ready.

For example, a file backup would save a Microsoft Word document. On the other hand, an image backup would save both the document and the Microsoft Word application.

IT Continuity

IT continuity is the IT-focused portion of a business continuity plan. Its goal is to get crucial IT systems, workflows, and data running quickly to minimize the interruption to productivity.

While backups focus on data, IT continuity focuses on restoring critical IT systems so the business can continue functioning.

 

The IT disaster recovery process

The specifics of an IT disaster recovery process will vary based on the event, but generally, the same concepts apply to all disasters.

To recover IT functionality, you will:

  • Evaluate what hardware or software needs replacing to restore functionality.
  • Purchase and activate replacement technology, if necessary.
  • Restore data and systems using backups.

While this sounds simple and straightforward, recovery can be complex, particularly if an incident response or IT disaster recovery plan is not in place.

If you have a plan in place and have prepared for possible IT disasters, your recovery will be much faster than if you had not prepared.

IT disaster recovery process example

A computer server crashes, bringing a company’s network down. As a result, none of the technology can communicate, and productivity halts.

What IT disaster recovery looks like with planning

Before the server crashed, Company A had a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan. As a result, they prepared for the possibility of server failure.

They had a secondary server and IT continuity for critical systems. This preparation brought them back online quickly. While it may take time to recover in full, they can continue to produce goods and services with minimal downtime.

Company A’s process looks like this:

  1. Activate new server
  2. Activate critical systems using its IT continuity system
  3. Restore critical data using backups

What IT disaster recovery looks like without planning

However, Company B did not have a BCDR plan when their server crashed. As a result, company B will need to buy a new server and rebuild its system using backups without IT continuity.

First, they will need to buy a new server.

Many servers are custom creations, which take time to build. Depending on supply chain issues and the complexity of the server, it can take days or even weeks to build and receive a new server.

Even if Company B is fortunate and its vendor has a suitable server on the shelf, it still must account for shipping time.

At a minimum, Company B is waiting one day for a new server.

Once Company B has a server, it must reinstall and reconfigure its IT systems, building its network from the ground up.

Activating the server will take additional time if you use only file backups.

Because file backups do not include settings, programs, and applications, these must be installed and configured before the data files. This can potentially take a month to complete.

If Company B only uses file backups, its disaster recovery looks like this:

  1. Research and look for a new server
  2. Purchase a new server
  3. Receive the new server
  4. Configure the new server
  5. Connect the new server to the network
  6. Install applications
  7. Recover data using backup files

However, if Company B has image backups, programming a new server should take an hour or less.

If Company B uses image backup files, its disaster recovery looks like this:

  1. Research and look for a new server
  2. Purchase a new server
  3. Receive the new server
  4. Install image backups to restore applications, programming, and data

Company B still takes time to select, purchase, and receive the server when using image backups, but the activation time is significantly less than with file backups.

In summary, Company B’s possible downtime ranges from 24 hours to over a month before their business can function properly. Their recovery time is affected by hardware availability and their chosen backup style.

 

Next steps toward creating your IT disaster recovery plan

IT disaster recovery brings systems back online in response to an IT disaster. It focuses on recovering critical data and functionality.

Disaster recovery speed will depend on planning, available resources, and the time it takes to restore data, programs, settings, and applications. The more you plan and the more resources you have on hand, the faster the recovery.

Creating and utilizing an incident response or disaster recovery plan can help prepare you for worst-case scenarios and minimize downtime, lost profits, and damage to your business reputation.

Your IT provider or internal IT team can help you build a recovery plan. If you’re unsure if you have a plan in place, ask your provider, “Do we have recovery plans, and are these aligned with real, plausible risks?”

Your plan will consider your immediate needs and IT budget to build the most effective strategy for your organization. If your circumstances change, you can revisit and adjust the plan accordingly.

WEBIT Services has been performing risk assessments, creating incident response plans, and enacting IT strategies for satisfied clients for over 25 years.

If you’re looking for a new IT provider, book a free 30-minute assessment to see how WEBIT services can help.

If you’re not ready to make a commitment but would like to learn more about IT strategies like disaster recovery, we recommend the following articles: