What is Disaster Recovery?

Disaster recovery as a concept developed in the mid to late 1970s as computer center managers began to recognize the dependence of their organizations on their computer systems. At that time most systems were batch-oriented mainframes which in many cases could be down for a number of days before significant damage would be done to the organization
During the 1980s and 1990s, IT disaster recovery awareness and the disaster recovery industry grew rapidly, driven by the advent of open systems and real-time processing (which increased the dependence of organizations on their IT systems). Another driving force in the growth of the industry was increasing government regulations mandating business continuity and disaster recovery plans for organizations in various sectors of the economy.
With the rapid growth of the Internet through the late 1990s and into the 2000s, organizations of all sizes became further dependent on the continuous availability of their IT systems, with many organizations setting an objective of 99.999% availability of critical systems. This increasing dependence on IT systems, as well as increased awareness from large-scale disasters such as 9/11, contributed to the further growth of various disaster recovery related industries, from high-availability solutions to hot-site facilities.

Importance of disaster recovery planning

As IT systems have become increasingly critical to the smooth operation of a company, and arguably the economy as a whole, the importance of ensuring the continued operation of those systems, or the rapid recovery of the systems, has increased.
It is estimated that most large companies spend between 2% and 4% of their IT budget on disaster recovery planning, with the aim of avoiding larger losses in the event that the business cannot continue to function due to loss of IT infrastructure and data. Of companies that had a major loss of business data, 43% never reopen, 51% close within two years, and only 6% will survive long-term.
As a result, preparation for continuation or recovery of systems needs to be taken very seriously. This involves a significant investment of time and money with the aim of ensuring minimal losses in the event of a disruptive event.

Classification of Disasters

Disasters can be classified in two broad categories. The first is natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. While preventing a natural disaster is very difficult, measures such as good planning which includes mitigation measures can help reduce or avoid losses. The second category is man-made disasters. These include hazardous material spills, infrastructure failure, or bio-terrorism. In these instances surveillance and mitigation planning are invaluable towards avoiding or lessening losses from these events.

Control measures in recovery plan

Control measures are steps or mechanisms that can reduce or eliminate various threats for organizations. Different types of measures can be included in BCP/DRP.
Disaster recovery planning is a subset of a larger process known as business continuity planning and should include planning for resumption of applications, data, hardware, communications (such as networking) and other IT infrastructure. A business continuity plan (BCP) includes planning for non-IT related aspects such as key personnel, facilities, crisis communication and reputation protection, and should refer to the disaster recovery plan (DRP) for IT related infrastructure recovery / continuity. This article focuses on disaster recovery planning as related to IT infrastructure. Types of measures:

    1. Preventive measures - These controls are aimed at preventing an event from occurring.
    2. Detective measures - These controls are aimed at detecting or discovering unwanted events.
    3. Corrective measures - These controls are aimed at correcting or restoring the system after disaster or event.

These controls should be always documented and tested regularly.


Prior to selecting a disaster recovery strategy, a disaster recovery planner should refer to their organization's business continuity plan which should indicate the key metrics of recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) for various business processes (such as the process to run payroll, generate an order, etc.). The metrics specified for the business processes must then be mapped to the underlying IT systems and infrastructure that support those processes.
Once the RTO and RPO metrics have been mapped to IT infrastructure, the DR planner can determine the most suitable recovery strategy for each system. An important note here however is that the business ultimately sets the IT budget and therefore the RTO and RPO metrics need to fit with the available budget. While most business unit heads would like zero data loss and zero time loss, the cost associated with that level of protection may make the desired high availability solutions impractical.

The following is a list of the most common strategies for data protection.

  • Backups made to tape and sent off-site at regular intervals
  • Backups made to disk on-site and automatically copied to off-site disk, or made directly to off-site disk
  • Replication of data to an off-site location, which overcomes the need to restore the data (only the systems then need to be restored or synchronized). This generally makes use of storage area network (SAN) technology
  • High availability systems which keep both the data and system replicated off-site, enabling continuous access to systems and data

In many cases, an organization may elect to use an outsourced disaster recovery provider to provide a stand-by site and systems rather than using their own remote facilities.

In addition to preparing for the need to recover systems, organizations must also implement precautionary measures with an objective of preventing a disaster in the first place. These may include some of the following:

  • Local mirrors of systems and/or data and use of disk protection technology such as RAID
  • Surge protectors — to minimize the effect of power surges on delicate electronic equipment
  • Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and/or backup generator to keep systems going in the event of a power failure
  • Fire preventions — alarms, fire extinguishers
  • Anti-virus software and other security measures

Are you prepared? Call us today for a disaster preparedness assessment.