Real disaster recovery plans require preallocated resources
January 20, 2013
Here is one core thing about meaningful disaster recovery plans: they all require preallocation of resources. This may range from actual servers in actual racks in an actual machine room, all humming and ready to go the moment that you need them, all the way to simply a bunch of money that is reserved for disaster recovery so that you can immediately start buying new hardware and renting colocation space (or simply getting more cloud computing capacity).
If you do not have these preallocated resources, you do not really have a disaster recovery plan; you don't have something you can immediately start executing in any meaningful way and especially you don't have a plan with a time bound. Without preallocated resources, step zero of your DR plan is 'magically get money and other resources from somewhere' and magic is unpredictable and uncertain.
The problem with the preallocated resources that a meaningful DR plan requires is that they are completely unproductive now, whether they are servers that are basically unused or money that is simply sitting there not being spent. As a result there is always going to be a temptation and pressure to take these unproductive resources and do something with them; to claim servers or machine room space or money for some more urgent need.
This temptation is not stupid. At the extreme bound it's completely wrong to insist on not using the preallocated DR resources if it means that the organization goes out of business in the mean time. The relative priority of allocating resources to DR versus allocating resources to something else is always a tradeoff and a risk assessment. Sometimes DR will lose and thus it will lose resources. How often DR loses is partly a function of the organization's relative priorities and partly a function of how prosperous the organization is (ie, how many surplus resources it has in general).
I will give you a corollary: if your organization is low on resources and it does not prioritize disaster recovery very highly, I feel that there is very little point in creating a meaningful disaster recovery plan. The odds are simply very low that you will be able to hold on to your preallocated resources until a disaster happens, so you will be left with a beautiful plan but no means of carrying it out or only the ability to execute random portions.
(Note that you can still be prepared for disasters even without having an DR plan. To simplify, DR preparation is having offsite backups while a DR plan is knowing what you're going to restore them on to.)
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