Disaster recovery: Test, test and test some more


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As Hurricane Katrina proved, a DR plan is worthless unless it's tested thoroughly.

When New Orleans law firm Chaffe McCall L.L.P. was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, network administrator James Zeller was in for an unpleasant awakening. Having learned to live with hurricanes, Zeller thought he was prepared for any eventuality. His disaster recovery (DR) plan was simple and, he thought, effective. With a smaller office in Baton Rouge, LA, and backup tapes stored in an offsite location, the law office's DR plan called for restoring data and applications in Baton Rouge and conducting business with users connected remotely.

Zeller never tested Chaffe McCall's DR plan and its post-Katrina recovery was stymied by one surprise after another. Underpowered servers running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT Server 4.0 were unable to run apps requiring Windows Server 2000 or 2003; and the lack of suitable tape drives in the recovery site, as well as the inability of the infrastructure in Baton Rouge to cope with the increased computing and network load, brought the business to a grinding halt. Unable to procure servers due to high post-hurricane demand for hardware, Zeller rushed to purchase and configure high-end desktops to run his apps. After a strenuous week, business returned to something approaching normal with one cruel lesson learned: An untested DR plan isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

Chaffe McCall is hardly

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alone in its experience. DR planning and testing is costly, and the contingency nature of DR makes it susceptible to budget cuts and testing shortcuts.

The cost of a single DR test can easily exceed $100,000 in larger organizations. To control costs, some companies perform several smaller component tests during the year in addition to a full annual test. Others extend the testing cycle across several years. "As part of our business-continuity plan, we are obligated to test each business application at least once every three years," reports Dan Traynor, director of IT infrastructure services at Southern Company, an energy firm in Atlanta.

This was first published in September 2006

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