When a business suffers a cybersecurity disaster, one of the most long-lasting, detrimental effects comes in the form of downtime, or a loss of business operations and profits. A lack of disaster recovery planning can result in a chain of events that turns a minor cybersecurity event into a data breach and resultant catastrophic business disaster.
Many small and medium-sized businesses simply don’t have the disaster recovery planning in place to survive even a partial loss of data and IT functionality for a short time, much less the related fall-out and loss of revenue that results from a full-blown data breach.
Backing Up Your Data is Only the First Step in Protection
Business owners often make the mistake of assuming that backing up their data is enough to keep them up-and-running post-disaster. Unfortunately, simply having a backup is only one part of the equation—similar to having a flat tire and a spare, but no tools to get that spare into place to keep your car moving forward.
When you’re stuck by the side of the road, time is of the essence. How fast can you change your tire (your Recovery Time Objective, or RTO)? At what point can you continue making the same progress as before the incident occurred? (your Recovery Point Objective, or RPO)? Just like a stand-alone backup plan, some spare tires are only good for certain distances at lower speeds and only as a stopgap measure to get you to the repair shop. Other spares are designed to be used over a longer term, with full driving capabilities—but operating with them can sometimes compromise other parts of the automobile, such as tire treadwear, fuel efficiency, and braking power.
Certain variables will come into play the moment cybersecurity disaster strikes—and how you and your business respond will ultimately determine how fast you get your business operations back up-and-running post-disaster.
What is Backup?
To put it simply, backup is the copying of files to another location, usually on a disk and located either on-site, off-site, or both. Ideally, backups will occupy three separate locations: onsite, offsite, and in the cloud. Backups are put into service in an on-call fashion, and utilized only when necessary.
When is backup enough?
As long as your IT environment itself isn’t affected, a loss of data can sometimes be managed with backup alone. The backup function allows you to bring your data back into your systems to get your IT functionality back on track. However, in the event of a disaster—whether natural or during a cyberattack—the typical IT environment is compromised along with the data, making a data replacement or backup virtually useless without a disaster recovery plan in place.
Don’t be misled by the idea that data backup is a sufficient precaution in the event of a cybersecurity disaster.
When is backup NOT enough?
As soon as your IT environment becomes compromised, your data backup becomes that spare tire—without the required lug nuts, jacks, and know-how to put it into service. Having your data backed up in a compromised IT environment is akin to not having a backup at all.
In short, backup is just the beginning. To ensure business continuity and an IT environment that stays up-and-running in the event of a disaster, you must establish a proper disaster response plan.
What is Disaster Recovery?
Disaster recovery comes into play when your business’s operations and continuing functionality are on the line. A solid disaster recovery plan involves a complete imaging and mirroring of your disk drives and servers to allow a rapid restore of your entire system—this method is faster and more efficient than manually restoring your operating system and copying/transferring files
It’s important to keep in mind that a disaster doesn’t necessarily mean a catastrophic hurricane, and it doesn’t typically involve the physical damage we associate with natural disasters in general. For most businesses, disaster strikes when IT networks and systems go down for any length of time that affects normal business operations. When you have a reputable disaster recovery plan in place, your employees can continue to work and you can continue to serve your customers by relying on your mirrored system.
Recovering From a Disaster: Cold, Warm, and Hot Sites
To effectively implement a disaster recovery strategy, you’ll need to consider your offsite backup storage options. The most reliable and cost-effective offsite storage location is the cloud-hosted option, which stores your valuable company data and files in a location away from your physical location and separately from your servers. Cloud hosted backup allows for a mirroring of your entire system, which translates to faster recovery time—and no need to wait for the copy and transfer of data involved with a manual backup/restore method.
The speed of your disaster recovery protocol will depend on your site choice and your Disaster Response Provider’s capabilities. The options below offer data and system restoration times that range from slowest to real-time:
A cold site is a secure facility that is primarily an empty space, with access to communications and power when necessary. Typically, cold sites await the arrival and setup of equipment and personnel during a post-disaster scenario.
A cold site offers data preservation and backup, with IT systems replicated in the form of system images or virtual machines (VMs) to be stored locally and/or remotely. No data is loaded onto the recovery servers until requested (usually, in a post-disaster scenario). When necessary, the server and data recovery and restoration process are initiated. The amount of time required to get your business up-and-running will depend on equipment delivery and setup, available resources, the size of your computing environment, and the amount of data in question.
A warm site offers a compromise between the faster turnaround time of a hot site and the cost-effectiveness of a cold site. Typically, a warm site maintains hardware and connectivity that is ready for deployment, but the primary IT environment isn’t run parallel in real-time, as with a hot site.
A warm site involves VMs that are loaded into allocated hosts and configured, requiring that your IT team simply load the data and spin up the servers.
The disaster recovery process in a warm site environment is much faster than that of a cold site, as basically everything you need is stored and ready for deployment as necessary.
Both cold and warm sites offer backup selection via a data snapshot so that you can choose the safest restoration point you want to return to in the event of a major data corruption incident.
A hot site is a fully operational replica of your primary data center that is armed and ready to go the moment disaster strikes. In contrast to cold and warm sites, a hot site will typically house some physical comforts as well—for example, conference rooms, restrooms, and food and beverage facilities for staff to regroup during the post-disaster scenario.
A hot site provides for your redundant IT environment and data to run in parallel to your primary IT systems, with data synced constantly—in real-time. Sometimes, this method is part of the high-availability function of a mission-critical application like email or active directory, but it can also be a duplicate copy of your primary—or active—environment.
Further Benefits of Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)
Choosing the right disaster response provider can mean the difference between your business’s recovery and total catastrophe. A reputable DRaaS provider will provide disaster response planning that includes a virtual private cloud to allow for a “sandbox” type of system experimentation. The sandbox affords a safe platform for testing software upgrades, patches, and new use cases, andallows your IT team to boot-up and modify your system without affecting your live data or recovery environment.
In a scenario where your overall IT environment is fine but you’ve experienced a significant data corruption, a warm DR site likely offers the right balance and a faster RTO/RPO for your business—this way, you can avoid the time-sink involved in shipping large volumes of data back to your primary data center.
Your DR environment can also be used to temporarily host applications and services while conducting regular maintenance, migrations, and training exercise. A quality DR platform offers an all-in-one backup solution that covers you across the spectrum: whether you simply need to restore a small amount of data or you want to continue business as usual during a full-blown disaster, your DR service provides that vital link between shutting down and staying in business.
Choose Your DRaaS Provider Carefully
While backup is an important part of any good disaster recovery strategy, it is only one component of a comprehensive DR system. Backing up without a recovery method in place means your business will be left squarely on the side of the road during a disaster—and that spare tire isn’t going to do you any good when all the tools to install it are missing.
If you’re looking for the peace of mind that comes with long-term business continuity and resiliency, consider a reputable disaster recovery provider to keep your business up-and-running both during and after disaster strikes.