2024 Gartner® report: Tips to bolster your disaster recovery program
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June 11, 2024

Essential cloud disaster recovery practices for success

A cloud disaster recovery (DR) plan is only useful if it’s practiced, refined and updated. Similar to traditional IT DR, best practices for cloud disaster recovery can help with efficiency and cost savings. This article outlines essential disaster recovery best practices that can help ensure successful cloud recoveries. 

Cloud disaster recovery best practices

To make sure your cloud disaster recovery strategy is well thought out and executed, we recommend incorporating the following best practices: 

  • Prioritize your critical and important business services
  • Understand how your cloud deployment strategies and the shared responsibility model will impact your ability to recover
  • Create a central repository of templated, automated runbooks to codify the recovery process for the application stack
  • Implement automation to remove manual, repetitive tasks
  • Outline and implement an effective communications strategy
  • Practice how you play and make disaster recovery scenarios as realistic as possible 
  • Understand what post-recovery metrics are required to learn from your mistakes and successes
  • Continuously review and improve DR plans, treating them like living documents

Prioritize your critical and important business services

Most likely, you’ll determine the DR strategy by the workload tier and manage multiple strategies. Here’s an example of a potential cloud DR setup: 

  • Mission-critical applications: An Active/Active DR strategy across multiple regions that provides near-zero data loss and has recovery time objectives (RTOs) in the seconds, but comes at a very high price. 
  • Business-critical applications: Active/Passive strategies, either Pilot Light or Warm Standby, provide you a good balance of benefits and cost.
  • Low priority applications: Active/Passive in a single availability zone which restores backups after the outage with RTOs within 24 hours at a low cost.

Understand how your cloud deployment strategies and the shared responsibility model will impact your ability to recover

There’s added complexity to DR when you’re managing workloads in the cloud. There’s multiple workloads and services that can be in various regions or Availability Zones (AZs). The DR strategies are typically organized by workload tier, as mentioned above, requiring you to manage multiple strategies.

After the DR strategy is outlined, you can then build your cloud DR plan with the steps required to bring each function back online to the original region or AZ. Before you create the DR plan with procedures and defined recovery time objectives, it’s critical to fully understand who owns the recovery of your cloud application and services. 

Even though your workloads are in the cloud, you are still responsible for the recovery of multiple facets. With Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), the cloud service provider manages and protects the infrastructure but you’re responsible for the RTOs, testing and tracking RTAs, overall availability and recovery of the following:

  • Workloads
  • Security
  • Middleware
  • Guest operating systems 

This shared responsibility model is a critical component to understand when outlining and executing cloud DR plans. 

Create a central repository of templated, automated runbooks to codify the recovery process for the application stack

Searching for one or multiple recovery procedures in various places can waste precious time. With recovery time objectives ranging from minutes to hours - it’s time you simply don’t have when recovering from an outage or failure. 

A best practice for cloud disaster recovery is to centralize all recovery plans in one location, ideally an automated recovery platform. This includes recovery plans across all cloud service providers and applications. A centralized repository provides standardization and saves you much needed time during a recovery.

Implement automation to remove manual, repetitive tasks

Up to four-fifths of downtime incidents are caused by human error, per the Uptime Institute. It’s no surprise that an essential cloud DR best practice is to implement automation and reduce or remove manual tasks.

With cloud disaster recovery software you can integrate with multiple technology tools and automate tasks including:

  • Trigger monitoring systems that track the health of the network and associated applications
  • Orchestrate when mass communications are sent to stakeholders
  • Automatically update the status of tickets within your ITSM (Information technology service management) platform 

Reduce manual, repetitive tasks to reduce the risk for human error and downtime incidents - it’s a win, win, win.Outline and implement an effective communications strategyCommunication is key! An effective communications strategy is an essential best practice for disaster recovery. Keeping all teams aligned, updated and in sync on the progress of the recovery can seem daunting, but is critical. An effective communications strategy incorporates the people, plan and methods required to keep key parties informed and updated on recovery progress. As a best practice, the following information should be included: 

  • Identify all people that will be involved in executing the DR process and stakeholders that require notifications on progress (executives, etc.)
  • Outline the internal communications for DR teams, stakeholders and all employees (both impacted and non-impacted) 
  • Outline the external communications to partners and customers
  • Confirm which communication methods will be used for each internal and external message: email, SMS, communications platforms (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom), etc. 

Practice how you play and make disaster recovery scenarios as realistic as possible Practice makes perfect. While a “perfect” state for IT disaster recovery scenarios doesn’t exist, testing multiple and extensive scenarios is an essential best practice for preparedness.

A best practice for testing disaster recovery includes standardizing plans in template form and testing them on a regular basis. Regularly reviewing your plans means you’re ahead when it comes time to do a test as you don’t have to worry about reviewing all your plans as part of that exercise.

Your appetite for risk and level of maturity will determine how frequently you review and run your DR tests. However, we recommend that you structure your tests to as closely mimic what you would actually do in response to an incident as possible. 

Understand what post-recovery metrics are required to learn from your mistakes and successes

Once you test your IT DR plan, another disaster recovery best practice is to analyze the post-disaster recovery metrics for key insights that can help you improve DR processes

After your live recovery or test scenario, compare recovery time actuals (RTAs) to recovery time objectives (RTOs) to get a pulse on the health of your disaster recovery procedures. Understanding if you met, missed or exceeded your RTO provides a significant data point to measure recovery success against. 

If your RTA exceeds your RTO then you will not meet your service level agreement (SLA) requirements. Shaving off minutes or even seconds from an RTA for a mission-critical application can lead to increased efficiency and cost savings. 

While disaster recovery metrics are a key indicator of disaster recovery health, it’s important to dive into the details for a more holistic understanding of DR health and potential areas for improvement.

Continuously review and improve DR plans - treat them like living documents

It’s not enough to just practice or test your disaster recovery plans and analyze the metrics -  you also need to capture lessons learned and update your plans. As a best practice for disaster recovery, consistently review and improve upon your DR plans. Here’s a few pointers: 

  • Delve into the details - look at how both your people and your technology performed. Get a full understanding of which recovery tasks were on time, late, or not started/canceled. 
  • Identify weaknesses - pinpoint any errors or latencies by application, workstream, or technology. Review the details at the task level to ensure you have the details needed to refine the process.
  • Ask for feedback - after the disaster event or test scenario, hold a debrief session with all of your teams and stakeholders. This gives all parties involved an opportunity to have their voice heard. Similar to a brainstorming session, great ideas can come from debrief sessions.
  • Update the DR plan - don’t forget to incorporate new ideas and updates to the documented DR plan and runbook. A best practice is for IT DR plans to be tested once per year at minimum. 

How Cutover can help with cloud disaster recovery Cutover’s Collaborative Automation platform can help you simplify and scale your cloud disaster recovery with: 

  • Runbooks that provide automation for disaster recovery to standardize DR processes
  • Pre-approved runbook templates to reduce preparation time before testing and live recoveries
  • Real-time dashboards and reporting to analyze in-progress recoveries and post-recovery metrics 

Utilizing disaster recovery management software, like Cutover, can help you standardize DR processes and implement these disaster recovery best practices in a programmatic way. Learn how Cutover can help you simplify and scale cloud disaster recovery, book a demo here.

Kimberly Sack
Cloud disaster recovery
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