This is the fourth article in the disaster recovery planning series. Here, Jon William Toigo explains the resources you can gain from tapping third-party resources like VARs, system integrators and consultants for help in planning process. It concludes the series in which he covered the process of completing a preliminary risk analysis, designing your plan and implementing your plan.
The overview of the planning process provided in the previous three columns in this series only hints at the complexity of the business continuity and disaster recovery planning effort. Even within your own company, as the planner you might often labor in relative obscurity, confronting the frustrating task of working around challenges that have been "designed" into applications and infrastructure, which is usually a consequence of disregard for or lack of awareness of the importance of resilient engineering. You are faced with finding ways to add on recoverability after the fact -- which is no small undertaking. Moreover, once you've found a workable approach to safeguarding key assets, the cost of the solution may limit its acceptability to business managers who are not focused on the business continuity issue full-time. In short, you might need additional help and resources.
One place to turn is to value added resellers (VARs), system integrators and consultants. Since they provide strategic solutions and advise decision-makers at various companies, they might be able to provide you with assistance in the planning process, specifically with some or all of these items:
Following our model of the planning process, here is an in depth look at the many ways that third-party partners can help.
Project initiation: When selecting a VAR or consultant to help with providing a solution for your new disaster recovery plan, choose one that you feel is trustworthy. Trusted providers should ally themselves early on with the customer, offering to augment the planning process in any way that is practical and possible.
Data collection: VARs, integrators and consultants may be able to help by providing case study data, industry metrics, and other data points that help to bolster the case for planning. It may also be useful to see if they have a list of clients with whom they have already worked and that you could speak with. This might provide some valuable insight into how innovative they were, how well they met deadlines, and how they balanced your needs within the given budget. It might give you an overall sense of how easy they were to work with. Keep in mind however, that this is highly-screened list of clients where projects went well.
Risk analysis: VARs and integrators may be able to help identify the costs of platforms to underscore their investment value to the company. They may also be able to offer "a fresh set of eyes" to identify vulnerabilities either in the internal configuration and design of platforms or in the external services required to support operations (i.e., communications and power infrastructure) that might be overlooked by internal planners. They can also advise on realistic timeframes for equipment replacement and set up contracts in advance that will expedite the refurbishment of damaged infrastructure.
Disaster prevention: Some vendors might offer an extensive suite of products, from UPS systems to fire detection and suppression systems to water detection and physical security products. All of these products can aid in detecting and eliminating certain disaster potentials. Other products, such as enterprise management, network management, and storage management software -- as well as network security gear -- can also lessen the risk of interruption. Along with redundant power supplies, these are additional products or services that might help prevent a larger disaster.
Data protection: One of the most onerous tasks in DR is determining what data needs to be protected and what technology option affords the best protection for a given budget. Since they perform such analysis on a regular basis, VARs and integrators might have valuable advice they can share with you as you try to sort through this. As always throughout the process, make sure they are working with you to identify the solution that best meets your requirements within the parameters imposed by site-specific conditions like your budget and the availability of labor. Some people might have a database of the performance achieved with options that they've implemented in the past. This might help you to determine the benefits and drawbacks of various solutions, so be sure to ask if they have such records.
Application hosts, networks and end user computing recovery Strategies: VARs and integrators may be able to propose approaches to building redundancies into production environments that offer "dual use" value -- that is, capabilities that justify themselves not only in terms of risk reduction, but also in terms of cost-savings and improved business task performance. For example, replicating your infrastructure at two different sites might be difficult to cost-justify on the basis of risk reduction alone. However, if this is a process that will also improve system responsiveness to remote users, it may be worth considering.
Training and testing: Having a VAR or integrator participate in testing and training can be very helpful. Especially if they've been through the process of testing and training before, having them participate in your walk through and the actual implementation of recovery plans might help you better understand how everything will work.
Change management: Having someone who is always dealing with new products keep you updated on new technologies and replacement products in your storage solution can help ensure that backup plan is always functioning. Ask them if they keep a current database of your firmware versions, serial numbers, product ID numbers and other key pieces of data regarding your solution. Of course, you should keep a record of this information yourself, but having two copies of your data can be of enormous value when components must be replaced or systems need to be rebuilt.
About the Author: Jon William Toigo has authored hundreds of articles on storage and technology along with his monthly SearchStorage.com "Toigo's Take on Storage" expert column and backup/recovery feature. He is also a frequent site contributor on the subjects of storage management, disaster recovery and enterprise storage. Toigo has authored a number of storage books, including Disaster recovery planning: Preparing for the unthinkable, 3/e. For detailed information on the nine parts of a full-fledged DR plan, see Jon's web site at www.drplanning.org/phases.html.