Ten ways to take the sting out of IT disasters

Organisations that are ready for a disaster reduce its impact and are up and running again more quickly — those that don't may never recover, says Jack Wallen
By Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
1 of 10 Earthworm/Flickr

Pedal power: battery backup

Disasters are inevitable. Even though people know they have to plan for the worst, life gets in the way. Then when disaster strikes, it takes them down. Rather than just sitting and waiting for a crisis, it's wiser to prepare for it. Here are some things you should do to be ready.

1. Get a good battery backup
You may be dubious about the value of a good battery backup, but it could mean the difference between getting some data and none whatsoever. Let me give you a recent example. I recently had a client that lost power to its building. Problems started to escalate and it looked as if we were heading for a disaster. But thanks to a battery backup, I was able to remote quickly into the machine, get a backup running immediately and avert a total loss.

2 of 10 Akeg/Flickr

House at night

2. Start creating nightly data backups
This measure goes with the first point. Without backups, you are completely lost. So making regular, reliable backups is the single most important thing you can do to prepare for a disaster. What's more, you need more than just a backup to an external drive. You must also have an offsite backup. As long as you have data, recovery is always a possibility. Make sure backups are nightly and successful. Backups are not a matter of set it and forget it.

3 of 10 Spaceamoeba/Flickr

Backup laptop

3. Start creating weekly full images
Full images are just as crucial as data backups. Some backup products, such as Acronis ABR with Universal Restore, allow you to take a backup image and load it on dissimilar hardware, providing you with one of the fastest routes to recovery. Just ensure you have a recent image — at least a weekly one — or else restoring it will saddle you with an out-of-date system.

4 of 10 @boetter/Flickr

Take notes

4. Document server and client applications
One of the problems with recovery is knowing what software is installed and where. So, document all the software on the system. Make sure you also record the versions of each piece of software. Know as much about your system as possible and don't rely on memory.

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RAID array

5. Check the status of RAID storage
I can't tell you how many times I've had clients with failing RAID storage. Their array is on its last drive when that also fails. Had they monitored the status of the array and replaced it, they wouldn't be in a situation where it couldn't be saved. RAID should not be looked at as a backup system — though some seem to think that's its purpose. It is crucial to monitor RAID-drive status at all times to prevent disastrous levels of loss.

6 of 10 Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Building fire

6. Rotate backups offsite
What good are backups if they're in a building fire? Of course, you can place them in a fire-proof safe, but why take a chance? Set up a system for rotating your backups at least weekly offsite. In fact, if you really want to be safe, have three external drives. You'll have one working, one in a fire-proof safe, and one offsite at all times. Although this approach requires you to rotate them more frequently to ensure each is relatively up to date, it will mean you always have a backup available.

7 of 10 Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Network diagram

7. Document the network
Documentation shouldn't stop at software on servers and clients. You also need to document the network. Know what you used, how you used it, the address schemes, and security measures. This documentation will make it much easier to recover the network. Also, make sure you use diagrams as well as descriptions. The documentation must be clear and thorough enough to enable any network admin to re-create your network quickly.

8 of 10 Martin Cathrae/Flickr

Shed in field

8. Have an offsite failover for your website
It's great to have all these backup plans, but if you're faced with disaster and depend on your website for revenue, you need an offsite failover. It will allow you to switch easily if your onsite server is out of commission. When you create this offsite failover, make sure you have the sites set up to update regularly, so you're not switching to an out-of-date server.

9 of 10 Churl/Flickr

Backup software

9. Relocate your software offsite
The organisation will have made a significant investment in all that software — unless it's like me and uses only open source. That investment needs protecting by locating all the installation media offsite. Better yet, burn copies of that data and store the originals offsite. That way, should disaster strike, you won't have to spend days tracking down the installation media to get back up and running. Also make sure that all install keys are stored with the media.

10 of 10 Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Laptop dripping with water

10. Develop a solid recovery plan
Finally, you must have a plan for dealing with disaster. When the inevitable happens, you need to know how to react. Every second you flounder adds to the disaster. Ensure you know exactly what to do. Your plan needs to be set out, step by step, so that panic doesn't get a chance to take over.

Other measures
With the right measures in place, you can at least be ready for disaster and take steps that will make recovery easier. What other practices do you recommend? What pre-emptive measures have helped you bounce back from a disaster?

This story originally appeared as 10 things you should do before disaster strikes on TechRepublic.

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