10 Essential Elements of an IT Disaster Recovery Plan

An IT disaster recovery plan helps a business survive unexpected crises. But what are the elements you should include to make a good DRP?

Recent years have shown that every company needs an IT disaster recovery plan (DRT) in case something goes wrong — which, as we've learned, can easily happen at one point or another. For instance, in the first half of 2022, 236.1 million ransomware attacks worldwide occurred. An average cost of such a breach is $4.54 million, not including the ransom payment, which is about $812,360. Add to that the reputation damage and lost productivity, and you get a situation which many small and mid-sized businesses can hardly bounce back from. 

Disasters strike businesses in numerous ways — from fires and floods to data breaches — and often without any warning. Therefore, it is essential to build, implement, and test a disaster recovery plan well before you might need it. The plan should be simple to understand and follow, and it should be tailored to the company's specific needs.

Having an IT disaster recovery plan helps you survive the sudden crisis but also enables you to take control of the issue as quickly as possible, with the least expense and effort. Your DRP should be part of a broader business continuity plan and include at least ten key elements. Read on to find out more. 

What is a disaster recovery plan, and why does your company need one?

So, what is a DRP? A DR plan is a documented process that outlines a disaster recovery strategy and a list of carefully thought-out emergency procedures. It is intended to safeguard your company against costly disasters. 

Unfortunately, many firms believe they don't need a disaster recovery plan for various reasons. However, the majority of IT disasters (small and big) are brought on by human error, and the best way to protect your company from the consequences is to have a set strategy. Anyhow, the main reason your business still requires a DRP is because of your employees.

That doesn't mean you need to be on the lookout for unhappy employees damaging important systems on purpose (although it does happen occasionally). The risk usually comes from your workers making a simple mistake like opening an email attachment that contains malware or clicking on malicious links.

People are fallible, which is why you need to pay special attention to your company's well-intentioned yet unavoidably faulty asset — your employees — during the disaster recovery planning process. The DRP will reduce the possibility of human error, assisting in thwarting easy access for hackers, viruses, or ransomware assaults.

That said, there are other dangers as well. Hence your approach must also guard against the following:

  • Communication systems loss;
  • Natural disasters;
  • Power outage/surge;
  • Criminal acts;
  • Flood;
  • Fire;
  • Hardware failures.

For that reason, it's essential for all companies, medium and small, to create an operational DR plan that considers a variety of emergencies and disasters and has a set response strategy for each.

What elements should a disaster recovery plan cover?

The DRP aids in restoring the IT and telecommunication capabilities to ensure that operations can continue after an unplanned incident. Consequently, developing a disaster recovery strategy is essential to the prosperity and security of any company. 

You can create a good DRP by following several proven steps, including making a list of hardware and software items in order of importance, a list of roles and responsibilities, and appointing backup personnel. Additionally, to make sure the plan is up-to-date and working, you should test it regularly. 

So what are the most important steps of a disaster recovery plan? How can you know that your strategy is infallible? To ensure you’ve covered all the bases, your IT disaster recovery plan example should include these ten elements. 

1. Make a comprehensive IT assessment and inventory

Before enforcing a reliable disaster recovery plan, you must make a thorough inventory of your IT assets. That covers all software, on-site hardware, as well as cloud-based services and systems that are essential for your company. If this evaluation is incomplete or is not done properly, it may be challenging for a business to restore crucial processes or data in case of an IT disaster.

For this reason, your IT supplier should often do the inventory check and risk analysis. It might take some time, though, depending on the size of your firm and the complexity of your business procedures. However, a managed security service provider can be crucial for ensuring that your security and compliance needs are met as part of your disaster recovery preparation.

2. Create an IT backup management strategy

After you've completed a full review of your IT assets, including data, systems, hardware, and the cloud, it's time to start working on an IT disaster plan. The formal strategy creation process begins when an IT engineer analyzes the inventory information to determine which tools and strategies work best for your situation and business operations. Every firm relies on and uses data, apps, on-site assets, and cloud-based solutions differently. Therefore DR planning varies accordingly. 

Most companies decide that moving to the cloud is the most affordable DRP instead of maintaining physical offsite data centers (often referred to as disaster recovery sites). That said, private data centers usually offer absolute safety assurance because these facilities have their own advanced defenses. On the other hand, an internal DR site might be a better fit when businesses have more stringent information requirements and strict recovery time needs. In conclusion, the strategy stage is where IT specialists employ their knowledge and skills to optimize the recovery plan that will benefit your company.

3. Employee training is required for proper backup management

Disaster recovery plans need to be supported by senior management and implemented across the entire organization if they're to be successful. The management team and all employees must be aware of their responsibilities for maintaining processes under the DRP. 

For instance, if an employee decides to "simplify" their job by downloading software from the internet without consulting IT support, they are working outside of the security protocol outlined in the DRP and business continuity planning. That’s why companies must invest in training staff members on cyber security awareness and their particular duties (the actions they should take) in the event of a disaster as part of disaster recovery management.

4. Appoint emergency response teams

A standard part of the DRP is appointing a disaster response team that decides to what extent the plan has to be implemented in a given situation. Once each team member has a role and responsibility, their duty is to form a disaster recovery team consisting of IT experts and key members of the primary business units responsible for business recovery.

Furthermore, it is vital to develop and test the DRPs through disaster simulations to check how different team members behave in those circumstances. Practice makes perfect and instills the concept into workplace culture, ensuring everyone in your company knows the meaning of disaster recovery and their role in the process. 

The disaster recovery policy mandates that team members have access to third-party contact information, including clients, vendors, insurance companies, media outlets, and even relatives, in order to respond in the event of a natural disaster or injury. The recovery plan template will also have a financial analysis showing the cost of recovering from the disaster and getting things back to normal.

5. Make sure workflow and data are included in your backups

In planning for disaster recovery, what is the ultimate goal? Naturally, it is to prevent data loss. However, keep in mind that not all backup options are made equal.

In other words, many "business-lite" and consumer-grade backup solutions just back up data files, not your entire system. But if you don't have access to your OS and apps, you will most likely have a hard time with restoration. On account of this, your DRP should include image-based cloud backup protocols that mirror your entire system — not just specific files — to prevent data loss and damage to your workflow.

Perhaps a good strategy to implement is a 3-2-1 rule of data backup that ensures you constantly have a copy of your data that you can retrieve from a recovery point. The 3-2-1 rule includes the following:

  • 3 copies of your operating system, apps, and data files;
  • 2 different kinds of storage media (such as one cloud-based backup destination and one on-site backup device);
  • 1 offsite location to store backed-up data. 

All in all, your emergency backups must be standard, automatic, and validated at each level of the backup process under disaster recovery plans. 

6. Use the right metrics in your DRP

Metrics should be one of the topics to discuss with your IT provider while establishing a disaster recovery strategy. Therefore, you might want to discuss the following questions in more detail:

  • What is the RTO (recovery time objective)?
  • What is the desired RPO (recovery point objective)?
  • How fast can your team switch from a malfunctioning "live" system to the recovery procedure?

When talking about metrics, it's also good to discuss costs vs benefits. That is because the cost will inevitably impact your DRP. Simply put, a number of factors can change the price, including whether your company has already migrated to the cloud, how often you back up your digital assets, and how fast you want to restore your operations. Therefore, while business disaster recovery is obviously crucial, every DR plan needs to strike a reasonable balance between cost and benefit. 

7. Check that your backups are air-gapped

Air-gapped backups prevent hackers from moving laterally from your live systems to your backups if an intrusion into your network results in a disaster in the active data center. You can accomplish this level of security by using a backup device running a different OS (and has another kind of security access) than the one the server and other devices on the network use. Another option is to have a separate backup that is not connected to the network by LAN. 

8. It is essential to encrypt backups

A crucial step in protecting the data in your files and programs from prying eyes is to encrypt backups. As things go, data that is encrypted during both transmission and storage is useless to thieves. So, while your staff will be able to access and use the data the usual way, unauthorized users will only see nonsense.

9. Learn about backup retention policies and compliance requirements

Recovery plans should include compliance requirements together with encryption. That is because data encryption is required by several industry-standard and legal compliance protocols. For instance, retaining files, especially email correspondence, is a major concern for businesses in regulated industries.

Accordingly, plans for disaster recovery should include information on the data center's data encryption algorithm and recovery techniques for achieving RTO and RPO goals. By including security policies and corresponding IT protocols in every IT DR strategy, you will satisfy the data retention obligation and compliance requirements.

10. Create a disaster recovery testing strategy

Recovery plans are only useful if they are regularly tested. For this reason, your IT provider and internal stakeholders must conduct a "tabletop" testing exercise at least once a year to ensure that the disaster recovery procedure is effective and that employees know what to do in the case of an IT disaster.

Every member of your recovery team should participate in the testing each year and be aware of their roles because disaster recovery plans are only as effective as your personnel can make them. So, make sure your employees go through questions like "Where can I get information and instructions?" and "How to log in?". In order to prevent confusion and waste precious time and money, these and similar answers should be simple to find even in a stressful situation.

Final thoughts on disaster recovery policies

While no company wants to be forced to deal with a catastrophe, the reality is that human error, natural disasters, and ransomware attacks can occur at any time. Therefore, companies should invest time and resources into creating a disaster recovery plan. Doing so will prevent an unexpected crisis from turning into the worst-case scenario. 

If you need help making a DRP or want a disaster recovery plan template, you can rely on Complete IT. As one of the best cyber security companies in Phoenix, we can help you prepare your company for any unfortunate situation and recommend entirely customizable solutions for fast disaster recovery.