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March 25, 2024

Creating an IT disaster recovery plan template: 6 steps with example for guidance

Imagine this: your critical IT systems go down. Servers crash, data becomes inaccessible, and your business grinds to a halt. In today's digital world, such a scenario can be devastating. But there's hope! A well-crafted IT disaster recovery plan template is your insurance policy against unforeseen disruptions, ensuring a swift and smooth recovery.

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) template outlines the sequence of tasks your organization will take to recover applications from a disaster, minimizing downtime and ensuring business continuity. But creating one from scratch can seem daunting. That's where a DRP plan template comes in – a pre-defined framework to leverage across all of your applications and services.

What is an IT disaster recovery plan template?

An IT disaster recovery plan template is a crucial runbook that outlines the end-to-end process and sequence of steps your organization will take to recover applications from a disruptive event, such as a power outage, cyber attack, or hardware failure. Having a well-defined IT disaster recovery plan template ensures you have comprehensive and efficient application recovery plans across your important business services that are ready to execute in the event of a disaster. This article guides you through creating a comprehensive IT disaster recovery plan template, including essential steps, valuable examples, and practical guidance for crafting an effective plan.

Why use a disaster recovery plan template?

Creating a disaster recovery plan from the ground up takes time and resources. A template provides a solid framework, ensuring you cover all the essential elements. It helps you:

  • Save time: Focus on customizing the template to your specific needs instead of reinventing the wheel.
  • Maintain consistency: Ensure a clear and well-organized IT DRP template structure that is easy for everyone to understand.
  • Don't miss anything: The template acts as a checklist, guaranteeing you address critical IT disaster recovery plan procedures. An IT disaster recovery plan checklist is an important guide which outlines essential steps and procedures for organizations to rapidly restore IT systems and data following a disaster.

How to develop an IT Disaster recovery plan

Organizations typically orient their technology estate around applications or services. These are groupings of individual technology services (such as application code, compute resources or a database), that underpin the provisioning of a business service. It makes sense, therefore, to define recovery plans at this level. This allows for individual application-based recovery, but also to recover hundreds or thousands of applications when faced with a total loss scenario.

Runbook templates are the mechanism for defining recovery plans. Think of templates as the definition of what you want to execute and run, with a runbook being the resulting actionable set of tasks that you actually execute and run.

Defining a template at a service or application level allows you to define a common recovery approach across all of your applications and then create recovery plans specific to that application. Augmenting the definition of your recovery plan with configuration management database (CMDB) data ensures a rich description of the actions and activities required to recover your application.

Furthermore, having added organization-specific data to each recovery plan allows these plans to be executed in combination with each other, to effect the recovery of a larger logical unit, such as an important business service, cloud availability zone, or datacenter.

Building your IT disaster recovery plan template: Step-by-step with examples

Proactive planning is paramount in mitigating the chaos and financial losses associated with IT-related disasters and outages. Building an IT disaster recovery plan (DRP) template provides a clear, step-by-step guide for your IT teams to follow in the event of an outage. Automating specific tasks can save valuable time and minimize errors during a critical situation. 

By following a structured approach and incorporating valuable automations, you can construct a DR plan template that safeguards your organization's operations and fosters a culture of preparedness.

Here we have broken down the creation of a DR plan template into manageable steps and concluded with an IT disaster recovery plan example:

1. Define scope and objectives: 

  • Incident description: Outline the types of disasters you might face, like power outages, cyber attacks, or floods, and their potential impact on your operations.
  • Scope: Identify your critical IT assets. This includes applications, data, hardware, and whether they reside on-premises or in the cloud (e.g. customer databases, financial applications running on AWS).
  • Recovery goals: Set recovery time objectives (RTOs) - the acceptable downtime before getting systems back online. Prioritize critical systems with tighter RTOs (e.g. one hour for an e-commerce platform). Non-critical systems can have longer RTOs (e.g. 24 hours for internal communications).
  • Template owner: Assign a point person responsible for maintaining and updating the DRP.
  • Revision history: Track approvals and changes made to the DR plan template over time.

2. Initial response: 

  • Alert verification: Define procedures for confirming the disaster's nature and severity. This might involve verifying system logs or contacting affected personnel.
  • Communication: Outline clear protocols for notifying stakeholders and activating the disaster recovery (DR) team. This could involve email alerts, SMS messages, or conference calls.
  • Establish protocols: Define clear communication channels for different disaster scenarios (email, phone calls, SMS) based on criticality.
  • Contact information: Include a list of key personnel (IT staff, managers) and their contact details.
  • Automation: Build automated notifications to expedite the response process. For instance, automated emails or SMS messages can be triggered upon a system outage to alert the IT Team.

3. Recovery phase: 

  • Systems recovery: Outline steps to restore or fail over affected systems and applications to functionality. This might involve restoring from backups, activating failover procedures, or manually restarting critical services.
  • Data recovery: Define the tasks for restoring critical data from backups or alternative sources. This could involve restoring databases, file servers, or individual user files from backups.
  • Application recovery: Specify steps for resuming critical applications and services. This might involve restarting application servers, reconfiguring databases, or deploying new instances from backups.

4. Testing and validation: Ensuring readiness

  • Test environment: Establish a dedicated test environment to simulate and rehearse disaster recovery plans and practice using the DR plan template runbook.
  • Regular testing: Schedule periodic testing of the DR plan template to identify any issues or gaps in the plan. This could involve quarterly simulations or tabletop exercises.

5. Maintenance and review

  • Post-mortem review: Analyze the test results and update the IT disaster recovery plan template based on lessons learned. This helps refine communication protocols, identify resource gaps, or improve recovery procedures.
  • Regular updates: Regularly update the DR plan template to reflect changes in your IT infrastructure and emerging threats.

6. Additional IT disaster recovery plan template considerations

  • Dependencies: Identify any dependencies between recovery tasks and ensure they are addressed in the proper order.
  • Resource allocation: Specify the resources required for each task (personnel, equipment, etc.).
  • Escalation procedures: Define protocols for escalating the incident if recovery efforts stall.
  • Tools and automation: Consider incorporating automation tools into your runbook to streamline specific tasks, such as:some text
    • Configuration items: Integrate CMDB data from IT Service Management platforms into runbooks for a golden source of truth for configuration items.  
    • Failover scripts: Leverage Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools to automate the failover process for systems and applications to secondary environments.
    • Communication platforms: Integrate with communication platforms to proactively notify stakeholders and task owners on status and activity.

IT disaster recovery plan example: A simple scenario 

Critical data center application with thousands of services failing over to a secondary site. 

IT disaster recovery plan example: Testing for when an outage strikes

  • A simulated power outage causes the critical application to fail in the primary data center
  • Customers and staff can no longer access the application

DR plan initiated

  • The Cutover IT disaster recovery template runbook is triggered automatically (preferable) or manually.
  • The DR team is informed via Microsoft Teams that the DR has been initiated

Network / Domain Name System (DNS)

  • The application URL is redirected to an outage notification page for customer/user experience  

Secondary data center (DC) resources activated

  • Secondary DC application recoveries are initiated
  • Verify compute resources are available in secondary DC
  • Pull application source code out of the repository (Github) and use an Ansible script to provision
  • Validate admin access and all services are running
  • Establish any security/authentication protocols as necessary (SSL, ActiveDir, etc.)
  • Verify app configuration. 

Data recovery

  • Create a new database structure and attach it to the new standby instance.
  • Initiate recovery/rehydration of the data from backup source - the latest automated snapshot of the primary DB volume from before the outage occurred.
  • Checksum original and restored data
  • Functional test application and data (verify no DB corruption, etc)
  • Inform wider DR team and stakeholders via Microsoft Teams that application and DB are functional/ready for traffic

Network

  • Redirect application traffic via DNS to the secondary site
  • Validate traffic is being properly redirected

Back to normal

  • The application continues to operate in the secondary DC until the primary DC is fully functional again.
  • Recovery complete

Regulatory audit reports and post-mortem

  • Generate regulatory audit report of test for compliance
  • Review post-event details for future improvements

Cutover for your disaster recovery plan templates

Whether your systems are cloud-native, hybrid or on-premises you need to ensure resilience while meeting regulatory compliance requirements. Cutover standardizes and automates your IT disaster recovery plan templates. With Cutover’s automated runbooks you can bridge the gap between your teams, processes and technology to increase efficiency and reduce risks.

  • Create standardization across your application operations with a centralized template repository
  • Standardize and automate your global communications in one place, so the right people are engaged at the right time
  • Visualize critical paths and gain real-time visibility and reporting into runbook execution
  • Meet regulatory compliance with the immutable and auto-generated audit log
  • Identify areas for process improvement with the post-execution analytics
  • Extend the value of your existing technology by seamlessly integrating third-party solutions and applications with the REST API

Cutover’s Collaborative Automation SaaS platform enables enterprises to simplify complexity, streamline work, and increase visibility. Cutover’s automated runbooks connect teams, technology, and systems, increasing efficiency and reducing risk in IT DR  and cyber recovery, cloud migration, release management, and technology implementation. Cutover is trusted by world-leading institutions, including the three largest US banks and three of the world’s five largest investment banks. 

Book a demo to see Cutover’s DRP templates and runbook capabilities for yourself.

Walter Kenrich
IT Disaster Recovery
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