Ask Intronis: How can I set up a disaster recovery plan for a customer?

Posted by Courtney Steinkrauss on Aug 31, 2015 12:46:01 PM

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Ask_intronis_2_Ask_intronisQ: I’m trying to close some business with a prospect in the legal services industry. We’re in the Pacific Northwest, so the office manager is worried about all the wildfires in the area and wants to create a disaster recovery plan. How do I go about setting one up for them?

You can start by commending your prospect! By preparing for the unthinkable, this office manager is showing real leadership. Recent research suggests that more than half of SMBs fail to plan for disaster, a dangerous bet that causes too many businesses to pay the ultimate price. And, asking for your help shows clear thinking. IT service providers like yours offer the combination of business and technical expertise businesses need to design and deploy effective DR plans. 

Disaster_Recovery-1An effective DR plan identifies a company’s business-critical processes, defines contingencies and resources needed to maintain those processes if a disaster strikes, and formalizes company procedures and process owners necessary to carry out DR plans successfully.

In general, creating a DR plan involves three basic steps:

1. Map applications to the business model

The first thing you need to do is inventory your prospect’s business processes. Ask your prospect to describe the company’s overall business model. Then assess the contribution of each IT application to the model. This will tell you what kind of protection you need to provide and expose any related applications that will need to be protected in kind. To protect your prospective customer’s business, it’s vital that you take a high-level, business view of these operations.

Work closely with your prospect to understand the rate of data churn associated with each application. This information will help you determine the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) you’ll need to support in your solution.

When considering your DR options (e.g., on-premise vs. cloud data backup, image-based vs. file & folder techniques, emergency power, etc.), work with the prospect to balance business continuity resources against the cost of unplanned downtime and data loss. Remind them that 25 percent of businesses do not re-open after a natural disaster and 43 percent do not re-open after catastrophic data loss

2. Formulate the DR plan

Your DR plan should combine application availability solutions, data protection solutions, and policies and procedures for managing different scenarios. 

The best application availability solutions apply hybrid local-cloud architectures and software-based automation to spin up applications that fall victim to server failures, disk crashes, and other localized incidents. Hybrid solutions leverage local storage and server resources to enable recoveries within minutes after local incidents, as well as cloud resources for security and management flexibility, making them ideal for protecting a company’s most indispensable applications. 

While other business processes might not need the same level of protection, the data associated with them can be just as indispensable. For a legal services firm like your prospect’s, this could include customer data, contracts, and evidentiary materials in photographic and video formats. Cloud-based backup usually offers the best protection for these materials, given their relatively low rate of churn.

Finally, no DR plan is complete without clear documentation of the policies and procedures—and personnel (including you) charged with carrying them out. It’s crucial to get customer buy-in during this phase, including provisions you’ll include for testing in the near term and auditing at regular intervals.

3. Test, revise, and revisit

A vital step of any planning process is testing. Only by testing your disaster recovery plan will you uncover flaws and opportunities for improvement and clarification. 

The test also makes a perfect final deliverable for the plan creation project, but don’t mistake this for the end of the engagement. Your DR plan is only as valuable as the applications and data it protects, and these applications and data are subject to continuous change. Regular refreshes of business operations – and of the applications that support them – are a normal, healthy part of every small business’ evolution, so you’ll need to check in with your DR customers to make sure the plan you devised with them continues to meet their needs.

We suggest providing annual DR audits as part of your agreement, but we strongly recommend that you check in with your customers more frequently than that. In fact, your most successful customers are the ones most likely to require frequent updates to their DR plans to accommodate their healthy growth and the changes that come with it.

In conclusion, never lose sight of the opportunity DR plans provide to deepen your relationships with your customers. By talking through their business operations and the processes most vital to them, you’ll gain insight into much more than business continuity strategies. You’ll learn their business models and competitive strengths, improving your ability to help them avoid the obstacles and pitfalls that growing companies commonly face. This knowledge will enhance your standing as a trusted business advisor and enable healthy business growth for you and your customers. 

Learn how the Intronis solution helped one MSP save the day after a disastrous  fire  

Photo Credit: KaneJamison.com on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.

Ask Intronis is a weekly advice column answering common questions from MSPs and IT service providers. It covers topics ranging from pricing and selling to marketing and communications—and everything in between. Submit your questions by emailing AskIntronis@intronis.com. 

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