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What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

Disaster recovery (DR) is an organization’s ability to restore access and functionality to IT infrastructure after a disaster event, whether natural or caused by human action (or error). DR is considered a subset of business continuity, explicitly focusing on ensuring that the IT systems that support critical business functions are operational as soon as possible after a disruptive event occurs.

Today, disaster recovery planning is crucial for any business, especially those operating either partially or entirely in the cloud. Disasters that interrupt service and cause data loss can happen anytime without warning—your network could have an outage, a critical bug could get released, or your business might have to weather a natural disaster. Organizations with robust and well-tested disaster recovery strategies can minimize the impact of disruptions, achieve faster recovery times, and resume core operations rapidly when things go awry.   

Learn more about Google Cloud backup and disaster recovery features and products and how they can be used to build the right DR solution for your business.

IT disaster recovery defined

IT disaster recovery is a portfolio of policies, tools, and processes used to recover or continue operations of critical IT infrastructure, software, and systems after a natural or human-made disaster.

The first and foremost aspect of a disaster recovery plan is cloud. The cloud is considered the best solution for both business continuity and disaster recovery. The cloud eliminates the need to run a separate disaster recovery data center (or recovery site). 

What is a disaster recovery site? 

It’s a second, physical data center that’s costly to build and maintain—and with the cloud, made unnecessary.

What is considered a disaster?

DR planning and strategies focus on responding to and recovering from disasters—events that disrupt or completely stop a business from operating.

While these events can be natural disasters like a hurricane, they can also be caused by a severe system failure, an intentional attack, or even human error. 

Types of disasters can include: 

  • Natural disasters (for example, earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, or wildfires)
  • Pandemics and epidemics
  • Cyber attacks (for example, malware, DDoS, and ransomware attacks)
  • Other intentional, human-caused threats such as terrorist or biochemical attacks
  • Technological hazards (for example, power outages, pipeline explosions, and transportation accidents)
  • Machine and hardware failure 

Importance of disaster recovery

Technology plays an increasingly important role in every aspect of business, with applications and services enabling companies to be more agile, available, and connected. This trend has contributed to the widespread adoption of cloud computing by organizations to drive growth, innovation, and exceptional customer experience. 

However, the migration to cloud environments—public, private, hybrid, or multicloud—and the rise of remote workforces are introducing more infrastructure complexity and potential risks. Disaster recovery for cloud-based systems is critical to an overall business continuity strategy. A system breakdown or unplanned downtime can have serious consequences for enterprises that rely heavily on cloud-based resources, applications, documents, and data storage to keep things running smoothly. 

In addition, data privacy laws and standards stipulate that most organizations are now required to have a disaster recovery strategy. Failure to follow DR plans can result in compliance violations and steep regulatory fines. 

Every business needs to be able to recover quickly from any event that stops day-to-day operations, no matter what industry or size. Without a disaster recovery plan, a company can suffer data loss, reduced productivity, out-of-budget expenses, and reputational damage that can lead to lost customers and revenue. 

How disaster recovery works

Disaster recovery relies on having a solid plan to get critical applications and infrastructure up and running after an outage—ideally within minutes.

An effective DR plan addresses three different elements for recovery: 

  • Preventive: Ensuring your systems are as secure and reliable as possible, using tools and techniques to prevent a disaster from occurring in the first place. This may include backing up critical data or continuously monitoring environments for configuration errors and compliance violations. 
  • Detective: For rapid recovery, you’ll need to know when a response is necessary. These measures focus on detecting or discovering unwanted events as they happen in real time. 
  • Corrective: These measures are aimed at planning for potential DR scenarios, ensuring backup operations to reduce impact, and putting recovery procedures into action to restore data and systems quickly when the time comes. 

Typically, disaster recovery involves securely replicating and backing up critical data and workloads to a secondary location or multiple locations—disaster recovery sites. A disaster recovery site can be used to recover data from the most recent backup or a previous point in time. Organizations can also switch to using a DR site if the primary location and its systems fail due to an unforeseen event until the primary one is restored.

Types of disaster recovery

The types of disaster recovery you’ll need will depend on your IT infrastructure, the type of backup and recovery you use, and the assets you need to protect.

Here are some of the most common technologies and techniques used in disaster recovery: 

  • Backups: With backups, you back up data to an offsite system or ship an external drive to an offsite location. However, backups do not include any IT infrastructure, so they are not considered a full disaster recovery solution. 
  • Backup as a service (BaaS): Similar to remote data backups, BaaS solutions provide regular data backups offered by a third-party provider. 
  • Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS): Many cloud providers offer DRaaS, along with cloud service models like IaaS and PaaS. A DRaaS service model allows you to back up your data and IT infrastructure and host them on a third-party provider’s cloud infrastructure. During a crisis, the provider will implement and orchestrate your DR plan to help recover access and functionality with minimal interruption to operations.  
  • Point-in-time snapshots: Also known as point-in-time copies, snapshots replicate data, files, or even an entire database at a specific point in time. Snapshots can be used to restore data as long as the copy is stored in a location unaffected by the event. However, some data loss can occur depending on when the snapshot was made. 
  • Virtual DR: Virtual DR solutions allow you to back up operations and data or even create a complete replica of your IT infrastructure and run it on offsite virtual machines (VMs). In the event of a disaster, you can reload your backup and resume operation quickly. This solution requires frequent data and workload transfers to be effective. 
  • Disaster recovery sites: These are locations that organizations can temporarily use after a disaster event, which contain backups of data, systems, and other technology infrastructure.

Benefits of disaster recovery

Stronger business continuity

Every second counts when your business goes offline, impacting productivity, customer experience, and your company’s reputation. Disaster recovery helps safeguard critical business operations by ensuring they can recover with minimal or no interruption. 

Enhanced security

DR plans use data backup and other procedures that strengthen your security posture and limit the impact of attacks and other security risks. For example, cloud-based disaster recovery solutions offer built-in security capabilities, such as advanced encryption, identity and access management, and organizational policy. 

Faster recovery

Disaster recovery solutions make restoring your data and workloads easier so you can get business operations back online quickly after a catastrophic event. DR plans leverage data replication and often rely on automated recovery to minimize downtime and data loss.

Reduced recovery costs

The monetary impacts of a disaster event can be significant, ranging from loss of business and productivity to data privacy penalties to ransoms. With disaster recovery, you can avoid, or at least minimize, some of these costs. Cloud DR processes can also reduce the operating costs of running and maintaining a secondary location.

High availability

Many cloud-based services come with high availability (HA) features that can support your DR strategy. HA capabilities help ensure an agreed level of performance and offer built-in redundancy and automatic failover, protecting data against equipment failure and other smaller-scale events that may impact data availability. 

Better compliance

DR planning supports compliance requirements by considering potential risks and defining a set of specific procedures and protections for your data and workloads in the event of a disaster. This usually includes strong data backup practices, DR sites, and regularly testing your DR plan to ensure that your organization is prepared. 

Planning a disaster recovery strategy

A comprehensive disaster recovery strategy should include detailed emergency response requirements, backup operations, and recovery procedures. DR strategies and plans often help form a broader business continuity strategy, which includes contingency plans to mitigate impact beyond IT infrastructure and systems, allowing all business areas to resume normal operations as soon as possible. 

When it comes to creating disaster recovery strategies, you should carefully consider the following key metrics: 

  • Recovery time objective (RTO): The maximum acceptable length of time that systems and applications can be down without causing significant damage to the business. For example, some applications can be offline for an hour, while others might need to recover in minutes.
  • Recovery point objective (RPO): The maximum age of data you need to recover to resume operations after a major event. RPO helps to define the frequency of backups. 

These metrics are particularly useful when conducting risk assessments and business impact analysis (BIA) for potential disasters, from moderate to worst-case scenarios. Risk assessments and BIAs evaluate all functional areas of a business and the consequences of any risks, which can help define DR goals and the actions needed to achieve them before or after an event occurs. 

When creating your recovery strategy, it’s useful to consider your RTO and RPO values and pick a DR pattern that will enable you to meet those values and your overall goals. Typically, the smaller your values (or the faster your applications need to recover after an interruption), the higher the cost to run your application. 

Cloud disaster recovery can greatly reduce the costs of RTO and RPO when it comes to fulfilling on-premises requirements for capacity, security, network infrastructure, bandwidth, support, and facilities. A highly managed service on Google Cloud can help you avoid most, if not all, complicating factors and allow you to reduce many business costs significantly. 

For more guidance on using Google Cloud to address disaster recovery, you can read our Disaster recovery planning guide or contact your account manager for help with creating a DR plan.

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What is disaster recovery used for?

Disaster recovery strategies help protect business operations in a number of important ways. Here are some common use cases.

Ensure business resilience

No matter what happens, a good DR plan can ensure that the business can return to full operations rapidly, without losing data or transactions.

Maintain competitiveness

When a business goes offline, customers are rarely loyal. They turn to competitors to get the goods or services they require. A DR plan prevents this.

Avoid regulatory risks

Many industries have regulations dictating where data can be stored and how it must be protected. Heavy fines result if these mandates are not met.

Avoid data loss

The longer a business’s systems are down, the greater the risk that data will be lost. A robust DR plan minimizes this risk.

Keep customers happy

Meeting customer service level agreements (SLAs) is always a priority. A well-executed DR plan can help businesses achieve SLAs despite challenges.

Maintain reputation

A business that has trouble resuming operations after an outage can suffer brand damage. For that reason, a solid DR plan is critical.