Make disaster recovery routine

It is easy to get carried away by the hype surrounding disaster recovery but less hysteria and more sensible precautions, such as...

It is easy to get carried away by the hype surrounding disaster recovery but less hysteria and more sensible precautions, such as backing up up data, are all that is needed.

Disaster recovery would be taken more seriously if it was called irritation recovery. When it comes to disaster recovery the fact is that few people outside of the military have changed their ways since the terrorist attach in the US in September 2001.

The reason for this is simple. Disaster recovery is usually sold on the false premise that every IT system is as vital as every other system. But common sense tells us that not all systems rank in importance with air traffic control, for example.

Disaster recovery even has the wrong name, and this being IT, it is immediately given a second name: business continuity which, to confuse matters further, we are told has as much to do with security as avoiding disaster.

Users are told that if their systems crash, they will lose a million pounds per moment and that in the Internet age every second of downtime is costing you - big time. In extreme cases this may be the case, but planning every time for the extreme worst-case scenario will make for some very expensive plans. Business-critical applications need to be highly protected and time-to-recovery documented, but not all applications are business-critical.

The reality is that if a phone is busy it is only annoying - unless you are dialling 999. How many of us take or make life-or-death phone calls on a daily basis? Usually it is for something much more mundane. And if the line is busy, you will call back. The same applies to transacting - if you can not get through you will try again.

Human nature is based on habit. If your favourite retail or insurance company's Web site goes down, it is most likely that you will wait for five minutes and try again instead of flouncing off to a competitor. People are driven by habit and familiarity backed by a (usually misguided) sense of loyalty.

Having 100% guaranteed uptime is a nice idea. The fact is that even at the very top end of the market there are businesses for whom mainframe technology is not robust enough.

Remember Tandem Computers, once an independent company, then part of Compaq and now part of Hewlett-Packard? There was a time when Tandem made a nice living selling fault-tolerant computers - it made so nice a living that each Friday afternoon staff at its Cupertino headquarters downed tools and drank beer.

Tandem sold fault-tolerant mainframes. Big tin - effectively two mainframe computers bolted back to back. If one stopped working, the other kept going. It worked. They did not sell very many (they did not need to) but it was perfect technology for those companies that needed it.

Unfortunately disaster recovery is being pushed in the same way but how many businesses really need a couple of mainframes in the basement?

Should you have a recovery plan? Of course. Should you back-up and protect data? Naturally. And should someone have responsibility for it? By all means. Remember if something goes wrong and more than one person is responsible, no-one takes the blame. Well, you can do your best, but failure will always be an orphan.

Since last September the spotlight has been put on disaster recovery, but for most of us outside the Ministry of Defence or the nuclear power industry disaster recovery plans should be mundane, and routine.

Disaster is always much more exciting than the recovery and suppliers try to sell on the potential for disaster.

As a consequence you always read about disasters but rarely about recovery, which is dull but worthy. It is not about saving the day, it is simply about having data backed-up and readily accessible through well planned business processes.

If you want to avoid disaster, lock up at night, backup at night and do not allow your entire board of directors to travel on the same helicopter.

Ian French is president of Bell Microproducts Europe

Read more on Business continuity planning

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