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Cultural changes
Along with the right technology, storage admins need to put the proper processes in place to make sure their DR environments work as needed in an actual disaster. IBM's Sing recommends admins develop detailed schemas that specify what data is most important and needs to be recovered quickly. That will help them determine if they're backing up the right data to meet required recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives.

All too often, says Sing, "storage administrators don't have as much insight as they need about the business value of the data for which they're responsible." That makes it harder for them to restore the most crucial data the fastest. One shortcoming that often emerges during testing is the realization that the storage admin has backed up only the data files associated with an app, and not the files needed to actually bring up the app at the DR site, says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN.

Some cultural changes can also ensure tests get done. While EMC suggests customers test critical apps at least several times a year, many are still struggling to test once a year, says John Linse, EMC's director of business continuity services. A summer 2007 survey of more than 1,000 data center managers by Symantec showed that a lack of staff, fear of disrupting business as usual and a lack of money are the

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most common barriers to running a full DR test. One reason, says Linse, is that "DR is sort of a second fiddle to operations" in many companies.

Educating others about storage's role in keeping vital apps running can ensure that staff members keep storage admins informed about changes that could affect DR, says Gil Hecht, CEO at Continuity Software.

He gives the example of a DBA who needs more disk space for a critical production app on a weekend, when the storage admin isn't available to provision it. The DBA might take unused space on a test and development system to keep the production app running and plan to tell the storage admin later. But if the DBA forgets, "the storage guy hasn't got a clue what his disk is being used for," says Hecht, or that the test and development system isn't replicated to a backup site and has thus invalidated the firm's DR plan.

Automated tools catch such changes, but Hecht says storage admins must educate other staffers about the need to communicate big and small changes, as even a small configuration change will affect the company's ability to plan for and recover from disasters.

This was first published in May 2008

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