The staggering costs and far-reaching consequences of downtime have propelled data center disaster recovery to the forefront of industry priorities. With nearly half of organizations grappling with significant outages in recent years and the potential to slash these losses by over a third through robust disaster recovery plans and sites, the imperative to invest in resilient infrastructure and contingency planning has never been clearer.

Data center disaster recovery is the process of restoring IT infrastructure and business operations after a disruptive event, such as a natural disaster, power outage, cyber-attack, or equipment failure. It provides business continuity, while minimizing downtime and data loss.

Dgtl Infra explores the key elements of a robust data center disaster recovery plan, including risk assessment, backup and replication strategies, and the importance of a well-prepared disaster recovery site. By adopting best practices and understanding the essential components of a disaster recovery plan (DRP), you will be well-equipped to safeguard your organization’s digital assets and minimize downtime in the face of unexpected disruptions.

What Is a Disaster Recovery Data Center?

A disaster recovery data center is a secondary facility that serves as a backup to an organization’s primary data center. In the event of a catastrophe or disruption at the primary site, the disaster recovery data center takes over operations to ensure business continuity.

Disaster Recovery Data Center with Server Racks Glowing Lights Cloud Symbol Reflection on the Floor

The most common disasters or disruptive events that data centers experience include:

  • Power Outages: Unexpected loss of power due to grid failures, storms, or equipment malfunctions
  • Hardware Failures: Malfunctions or failures of critical hardware components, such as servers, storage devices, or network switches
  • Cyber-Attacks: Security breaches, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, malware, and ransomware that compromise data and systems
  • Natural Disasters: Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, or wildfires that can physically damage the data center infrastructure
  • Human Errors: Accidental misconfigurations, deletion of critical data, or physical mishandling of equipment by personnel

The disaster recovery data center houses redundant infrastructure, such as servers, storage systems, and networking equipment, and is typically operated in a geographically separate location to minimize the risk of being impacted by the same disaster as the primary site.

Importance of Data Center Disaster Recovery

Data center disaster recovery is crucial for ensuring business continuity and minimizing the impact of unforeseen events. Here are the most important factors for data center disaster recovery:

  1. Business Continuity: A well-designed disaster recovery plan allows for critical business operations to continue even in the face of a catastrophic event. This minimizes downtime, reduces financial losses, helps maintain customer trust and loyalty, and allows employees to continue working with minimal disruption. The ISO 22301 standard for Business Continuity Management Systems (BCMS) is a common certification that organizations pursue
  2. Data Protection: Data is one of the most valuable assets for any organization. Disaster recovery plans protect data from loss, corruption, or unauthorized access during a disaster, making sure that important information remains safe and accessible, while being able to be restored to its original state
  3. Regulatory Compliance: Many industries have strict regulations regarding data protection, availability, backup, and disaster recovery, such as HIPAA in healthcare and FINRA in finance. Complying with these regulations, as well as broader disaster recovery standards like NFPA 1600, is crucial to avoid legal and financial penalties
  4. Reputation Management: Downtime and data loss can severely damage an organization’s reputation. A strong disaster recovery plan and the ability of an organization to quickly recover from a disaster, demonstrate a commitment to reliability and customer service, helping to maintain a positive brand image
  5. Cost Savings: While implementing a disaster recovery plan can have upfront costs, it can ultimately save money by minimizing the financial impact of downtime and data loss. This includes both direct costs, such as lost revenue and compensation to affected parties, and indirect costs, such as damage to reputation and customer trust

Key Disaster Recovery Metrics

Disaster recovery metrics are key performance indicators (KPIs) used by data center operators to define recovery goals, design solutions, and measure success.

Disaster Recovery Metrics representing Digital Concept Technology Cloud Computing Protecting Systems with KPIs

These disaster recovery metrics include:

  • Recovery Time Objective (RTO): The targeted duration of time within which a business process must be restored after a disaster or disruption in order to avoid unacceptable consequences. For example, a financial trading system may have an RTO of less than 1 hour, while a non-critical internal application may have an RTO of 24 to 72 hours
  • Recovery Point Objective (RPO): The maximum tolerable period of data loss measured in time, typically from the last data backup to the time of the disaster. For instance, a critical database may have an RPO of less than 15 minutes, meaning that in the event of a disaster, no more than 15 minutes of data should be lost from the last backup. A less critical system may have an RPO of 4 to 24 hours

IT service providers and their customers use RTO and RPO metrics, which are agreed upon and documented in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that define the acceptable downtime and data loss in the event of a disruption to the data center.

Disaster Recovery Plan for Data Centers

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a comprehensive document and strategy that outlines the processes and procedures for protecting and recovering an organization’s critical business operations, data, and IT infrastructure in the event of a disaster. It involves actions that should be taken before, during, and after such an event to provide continuity and minimize impact.

Disaster Recovery Plan for Data Centers with Finger Pressing a Critical Button and High Tech Controls

The objective of a DRP is to ensure the continuity of data center operations and minimize downtime in the event of a disaster or disruption impacting the primary data center.

1. Risk Assessment

  • Threat Identification: Identify potential threats, such as natural disasters, power outages, cyber-attacks, and equipment failures
  • Threat Assessment: Assess the likelihood and impact of each threat on business operations
  • Business Impact Analysis (BIA): Conduct a BIA to determine the potential consequences of a disruption to the organization’s operations, including financial losses, reputational damage, and regulatory non-compliance
  • Risk Prioritization: Prioritize risks based on their potential impact on data center operations, critical systems, and data, as well as the maximum tolerable downtime for each
  • Recovery Time Objective (RTO): Define RTOs for each critical system and application, specifying the maximum acceptable downtime to guide recovery efforts and prioritization. It is crucial to assess downtime tolerance in order to establish realistic RTOs

2. Backup and Replication

  • Backup Strategy: Implement a robust backup strategy for all critical data and systems, including full, incremental, and differential backups
  • Backup Storage: Store backups in multiple, geographically dispersed locations, including off-site and cloud storage
  • Data Replication: Establish data replication between the primary data center and a secondary site or cloud environment
  • Backup Testing: Ensure that backup and replication processes are automated, tested regularly, and meet recovery point objectives (RPOs)

3. Disaster Recovery Site

Disaster Recovery DR Site Data Center Server Racks Glow with Lights in Cloud Computing Atmosphere
  • Secondary Site: Establish a secondary data center in a geographically separate location to minimize the risk of both sites being affected by the same disaster
  • Recovery Site Capacity: Ensure that this disaster recovery site has sufficient capacity, infrastructure, and resources – such as IT hardware, network connectivity, and power – to handle the workload of the primary site
  • Data Synchronization: Maintain regular data synchronization and secure connectivity between the primary data center and disaster recovery site

4. Failover and Failback Procedures

  • Failover Procedures: Document step-by-step failover procedures to transition critical systems, applications, and data to the secondary site in the event of a disaster
  • Failover Criteria: Establish clear criteria for initiating the failover process and designate responsible personnel
  • Failover Testing: Test failover procedures regularly to ensure their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement
  • Failback Procedures: Define failback procedures to transition back to the primary site once the disaster has been resolved

5. Disaster Recovery Team

Disaster Recovery Team Man Dressed in Suit Interacts with Glowing Holographic Interface Organization Map
  • Recovery Team: Establish a pre-determined and dedicated disaster recovery team of employees, contractors, and vendors, with a clear chain of command. They should have well-defined roles and responsibilities, such as decision makers, technical leads, and communication specialists
  • Team Training: Ensure team members are trained on disaster recovery procedures and are available 24/7
  • Contact Directory: Maintain an updated, easily accessible directory of the contact information of the disaster recovery team

6. Communication Plan

  • Communication Plan: Develop a communication plan to keep stakeholders, employees, and customers informed in the event of a disaster
  • Communication Channels: Establish communication channels, such as emergency hotlines, websites, and social media accounts
  • Crisis Spokesperson: Designate a spokesperson to provide updates and manage external communications as part of a crisis management strategy

7. Testing and Drills

  • Regular Testing: Conduct regular disaster recovery tests and drills to validate the disaster recovery plan (DRP), including full-scale simulations, to identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. DRPs should be tested at least once a year
  • Plan Updates: Update the DRP based on test results, changes in the business environment, and new technologies
  • Resource Inventory: Maintain an inventory of hardware, software, and documentation required for disaster recovery

8. Vendor Management

  • Vendor Identification: Identify critical vendors and service providers and establish service level agreements (SLAs) that align with disaster recovery objectives
  • Vendor DR Plans: Ensure that vendors have their own disaster recovery plans in place and regularly test their ability to support your organization during a disaster

9. Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement Hand Presses Digital Interface with Icons for Connectivity and Management
  • Review Process: Regularly review and update the disaster recovery plan (DRP) based on changes in the business environment, industry standards such as NFPA 1600, lessons learned from disaster recovery tests and actual incidents, and best practices
  • Integration with BCP: The DRP should be integrated with the organization’s business continuity plan (BCP) to provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach to managing disruptions and maintaining business operations
  • Post-Mortem Analysis: Conduct a post-mortem analysis after any disaster event to identify areas for improvement
  • Ongoing Training: Invest in ongoing training and education for the disaster recovery team and employees to maintain a high level of preparedness

Best Practices for Data Center Disaster Recovery

Best practices for data center disaster recovery are proven, effective methods and techniques that have been successfully used by multiple organizations to achieve quick restoration of critical IT systems and data in the event of a disruptive incident.

Best Practices for Data Center Disaster Recovery Servers Lights with Cloud Computing and Reflection on Floor

Here are the most important best practices for data center disaster recovery:

1. Develop a Comprehensive Disaster Recovery Plan

Create a detailed disaster recovery plan (DRP) and strategy that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a catastrophe or disruption. This DRP should include a risk assessment, backup and replication strategies, the establishment of a disaster recovery site, failover and failback procedures, the appointment of a disaster recovery team, the formulation of a communication plan, and the management of vendors. It should be regularly reviewed, updated, and tested to ensure its effectiveness.

2. Implement Redundancy and Backup Systems

Critical systems and data must be backed up regularly and stored in multiple locations, including off-site facilities. Use redundant hardware, power supplies, and network connections to minimize the risk of single points of failure. For extra resilience, consider geographically dispersed backup locations to mitigate the risks of regional disasters.

3. Prioritize Critical Applications and Data

Identify the applications and data that are most critical to your organization’s operations and prioritize their recovery. This helps ensure that the most important systems are restored first, minimizing downtime and business impact. Create a detailed inventory and dependency mapping of these assets to clearly guide recovery order and prioritization.

4. Establish Clear RTOs and RPOs

A Recovery Time Objective (RTO) defines the maximum acceptable downtime for each application, while a Recovery Point Objective (RPO) determines the maximum acceptable data loss. These objectives help guide your recovery efforts and enable you to meet your organization’s business continuity requirements. Develop these objectives not just for applications, but also for specific data sets to create a granular recovery plan.

5. Conduct Regular Testing and Simulations

Conduct Regular Tests and Simulations Lights Server Room with Digital Information Interface Overlay

Regularly test your disaster recovery plan to identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Conduct simulations of various disaster scenarios to understand whether your team is prepared to respond effectively in a real emergency. Aim to test at a full-systems level, not just individual components, to ensure seamless interaction during a recovery scenario.

6. Train Staff and Maintain Documentation

All staff members should be familiar with the disaster recovery plan and their roles in the event of a disaster. Maintain up-to-date documentation of your systems, configurations, and recovery procedures to facilitate a smooth recovery process. Schedule periodic training sessions and involve a cross-section of employees, not just those directly involved in recovery, to foster organization-wide awareness.

7. Leverage Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery Solutions

Consider using cloud-based disaster recovery services, such as Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), to enhance your recovery capabilities. Cloud-based solutions can provide faster recovery times, greater scalability, and reduced costs compared to traditional on-premises solutions. Thoroughly evaluate the RTO and RPO capabilities of potential cloud service providers (CSPs) to make sure that they align with your specific recovery objectives.

Data Center Disaster Recovery Site (DR Site)

A data center disaster recovery site (DR Site) is a separate, offsite physical location that houses redundant computing infrastructure and data backups to provide business continuity in case of a disaster at the primary data center. The DR site contains essential hardware, software, and data replicas, allowing an organization to quickly recover its critical IT systems and resume operations with minimal downtime.

Types of Data Center Disaster Recovery Sites

Type of Data Center Disaster Recovery DR Sites Hot Warm Cold Site Side-by-Side Icons

The major types of disaster recovery sites are:

  1. Hot Site: A hot site is a fully equipped and redundant data center facility that can provide immediate availability and support for an organization’s critical systems in the event of a disaster. It is continuously maintained and kept up-to-date with the latest data, applications, and configurations, allowing for a near-seamless transition of operations from the primary site. A hot site typically allows for almost immediate recovery, often within a few minutes
  2. Warm Site: A warm site is a partially equipped data center facility that can be quickly prepared to support an organization’s critical systems in the event of a disaster. It typically has the necessary hardware and network infrastructure in place but may require some configuration and data restoration before operations can resume. This results in slightly longer recovery times, ranging from 30 minutes to several hours, compared to a hot site
  3. Cold Site: A cold site is a basic data center facility that provides the necessary space, power, and cooling infrastructure to support an organization’s critical systems in the event of a disaster. However, it does not have any pre-installed hardware, software, or network components, requiring the organization to procure, install, and configure all necessary equipment before operations can resume. This results in the longest recovery time among the three site types, ranging from 24 hours to several days

Alternative Data Center Disaster Recovery Sites

In addition, the following solutions are often considered types of disaster recovery sites:

Data Center Disaster Recovery DR Site Servers Floats Above Clouds Under the Sky at Sunset
  • Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery: DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) utilizes cloud computing to complement traditional physical recovery sites in virtual environments
  • Colocation Data Centers: Multi-tenant colocation facilities can serve as disaster recovery sites as they provide offsite infrastructure for organizations to store and maintain their servers and networking equipment
  • Mobile Recovery Sites: These are self-contained, portable data centers housed in specially designed vehicles or trailers that can be quickly deployed to a desired location

Frequently Asked Questions

How Far Apart Should Data Centers Be for Disaster Recovery?

For disaster recovery purposes, data centers should be located far enough apart to minimize the risk of a single disaster affecting both sites simultaneously. The specific distance between data centers depends on factors such as the types of disasters likely to occur in the region and the organization’s recovery time objectives (RTOs).

Distance Apart Computing Facilities for Catastrophe Purposes Cloud and Connectivity Links

As a general rule, many organizations aim to have their primary and secondary data centers at least 100 miles apart. This distance is influenced by the operational role of the primary data center and the replication method (synchronous or asynchronous) required between the primary and the backup sites.

The following are specific examples of data center proximity from major cloud service providers (CSPs):

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS): AWS operates 33 cloud regions globally, each containing multiple Availability Zones (AZs) that are isolated data centers, connected through low-latency links. AZs are typically located tens of miles apart within a region. For example, the US East (Northern Virginia) region has six AZs, with some of them being about 30 miles apart
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP): Google Cloud has 40 cloud regions worldwide, each containing several zones. For example, the us-central1 region in Iowa has four zones (a, b, c, and f), with some of them being about 50 miles apart

How Does Virtualization Help with Disaster Recovery within a Data Center?

Virtualization enables the creation of virtual machines (VMs) that can be easily backed up and replicated to offsite locations, providing a way to quickly restore critical systems in the event of a disaster. By decoupling the operating system (OS), applications, and data from the underlying hardware, virtualization allows for greater flexibility and portability of workloads. In a disaster scenario, the replicated VMs can be quickly spun up on different hardware at a secondary site, minimizing downtime and delivering business continuity.

What Is a Data Center Recovery Plan?

A data center recovery plan is a documented set of procedures designed to restore data center operations and services after a disruptive event, such as a natural disaster, power outage, cyber-attack, or equipment failure. The plan outlines the steps necessary to recover critical systems, applications, and data within a specified timeframe to minimize downtime and provide business continuity.

Key components of a data center recovery plan include a detailed inventory of hardware and software assets, a communication plan for notifying stakeholders, and a prioritized list of recovery tasks and responsibilities assigned to specific team members.

What is Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)?

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) is a cloud computing service model that enables organizations to back up their data and IT infrastructure to a third-party cloud provider like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. In the event of a natural disaster, power outage, cyber-attack, or equipment failure, the DRaaS provider assists in quickly restoring the organization’s systems and data to deliver business continuity.

DRaaS offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional disaster recovery methods, as it eliminates the need for organizations to build, buy, and/or maintain their own secondary data center.

Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.

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