Are you ready for a crash landing?

Backup plans are almost ubiquitous -- and a good thing too. But have you checked the use-by date on yours?

Unless you're totally brain-dead, you'll have some sort of backup strategy in place for your organisation to cope with that inevitable day when someone's hard drive has fried.

If your job title includes the word "service" or "network" somewhere, then you've hopefully supplemented that with a disaster recovery and business continuity strategy designed to deal with more catastrophic circumstances.

But just how long is that disaster recovery strategy designed to remain in place for?

The answer, disturbingly, often may turn out to be "not as long as necessary". I was reminded of this when I ran into a Gartner survey which found that even amongst organisations which have some form of DR and BC plans, few believe that they'd be able to cope for more than a week.

According to Gartner's study of 359 IT professionals -- which is a number that's big enough to have some degree of usefulness -- 60 percent of organisations assume that the longest major outage they'll experience will take seven days.

While it shouldn't take anywhere near that long to failover to an alternate site, the notion that a week should be long enough seems somewhat ambitious at the best of times (to say nothing of what happens if your outage takes place on 24 December).

As Gartner's Roberta Witty pointed out in a press release announcing the study: "Regional incidents, terrorism, service provider outages and pandemics can easily last longer than seven days."

Actually, you probably don't need to get that extreme. To pick a parallel example: when BA Flight 38 crash landed on 17 January, the wreckage didn't get removed until 20 January. Few BC plans are likely to have fully considered what to do if the side of a building got hit by a stressed aeroplane (although businesses located near airports might do well to consider that scenario).

What issues do people actually worry about?

According to Gartner, around three-quarters have plans in place for fire, power outages, and natural disasters. Apparently "at least half" are prepared for IT-related outages such as virus attacks, which isn't terribly reassuring. Bird flu fear obviously failed to stick, with less than a third of companies having strategies in place to deal with pandemics. Clearly, everyone needs to talk turkey some more.