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Tips for Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan to Protect Project Data

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/22/2011

If you've been trying to put together a data disaster recovery plan, you'll find tips and techniques for doing so successfully in this article. Learn when to create your data disaster plan, what needs to be included in such a plan, protecting data, and online backup options.

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    Planning for the Potential of a Data Disaster

    Do not wait until the last minute to worry about your data in a disaster Let's face it, no one likes to think about disaster - especially when it concerns data and long hours. The fact of the matter is that no matter how hard you hope they will not occur, disasters happen. It's best to understand this hard fact at the outset of a project, and that's why we perform risk assessments and create risk management plans as part of the regular cycle of planning a project.

    One component of risk management planning is formulating a plan for the data associated with the project. Even if your project is not in IT, and even if your project does not involve software development, it's more than likely that you will have a lot of data that accumulates during the course of planning and executing your project. Putting together a data disaster recovery plan is vital.

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    Assessing the Data Associated with the Project

    No matter what sort of project you are working on, chances are, there will be data associated with it. Whether your are working on a software development project or a process improvement project, you will accumulate data (for example, in process improvement projects, many statistics are collected). Before you can come up with a plan for recovering data that may be lost in a disaster, you need to first determine what data will be collected and where that data will be stored. By taking time to first assess the project data, the types of data, and the storage of the data, you will know what will have to be addressed in the event of a data recovery disaster.

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    Make a Plan for Creating Backups of Crucial Data

    Before disaster strikes, there should be procedures in place for backing up vital data. It is important to come up with a solid plan for how often data will be backed up, how vital data will be backed up, and what the method for data backup will be. Ideally, data will be backed up at least once a week. There are different methods for determining what information should be backed up and how often - think about it this way, the more vital the data is to your project, the more often that data should be backed up.

    There are several options when it comes to backing up vital data. One can create a backup on a CD-Rom or flash drive, with a file in an online file sharing system such as DropBox, or on a remote server using one of the data backup software programs that are available. The important part of backing data up is the ability to retrieve the data easily should disaster strike.

    When considering methods for data backup and for backing up vital data, consider a key element: should a natural disaster occur in your area, how will you retrieve project data? Will project data be easily accessible? It's important to think about the likelihood of a total disaster, especially if you live in a region prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes. In the event company property has been damaged, it is likely that the data will be damaged as well. If your data has been backed up in a remote location, this can sometimes prevent a total data loss.

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    Questions to Help You Create a Data Disaster Recovery Plan

    Once you have assessed what data will be associated with your project and you have assessed what your method for backing up key project data will be, you can begin to piece together your data disaster recovery plan. Here are some questions to think about when you're constructing your plan.

    1. What's the procedure in cases of human error? Let's face it, everyone makes mistakes. Some mistakes are easy to correct, some are not. If someone accidentally erases a file, how will that file be recovered? It's important to have a plan for when things go wrong due to human error. How often should individuals save their work? How often should they backup their work? What is the chain of command in situations when an error occurs and data has been compromised?

    2. What will you do in the case computers or software fails? Sometimes computers fail for reasons other than human error - the system crashes, the software becomes corrupted by a virus, or the computer is too full. It's important to account for computer failure in your data recovery plan. Is it enough to backup information on a particular computer, or do you need to backup data on a server or remotely?

    3. What will you do in case the server or network fails? If your server or the network fails, it's important to have a plan in place for dealing with the data loss that will occur and recovering data that you can. Businesses and home offices alike can be affected, even if you believe you are safe by backing data up in a remote location. However, it is important to understand that sometimes servers fail, and this information cannot be accessed remotely. What will you do to retrieve your data?

    4. What will you do if your equipment or files have been compromised? If equipment or filing cabinets have been physically destroyed, you will need a plan of how you will approach this problem. For instance, if all your equipment is destroyed, is there a remote location or alternative location where vital project information has been stored? Is that location secure? Do you have a safe deposit box for important documents?

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    Putting the Plan Together

    Once you have the answers to the above questions, you can begin to piece together your data disaster recovery plan. You may want to consider cloud computing as an option for disaster recovery. It's not enough to think about things like:

    • Your risk analysis - what's the likelihood of data disaster striking?
    • What are the preventative measures that can be undertaken?
    • What is the budget for data recovery?
    • Who will be responsible for data recovery?
    • What will be the first steps to take should disaster strike?
    • What tools will be used for data recovery?
    • What happens should the data not be recoverable?

    But, other things should be planned for. For example, should data loss occur, who will be the first person to be notified? Don't forget to include a communication plan. What will be the deadline for recovering data? Don't forget to create a schedule. Break the recovery plan down by task.

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    Test Your Plan

    Finally, you will need to test your disaster plan. Even when you've constructed an easy data disaster plan, disaster plans are meaningless if they have not been tested for their effectiveness. While you don't have to delete data to test your plan (though you could create some test files), the testing phase is often overlooked. Don't wait to see whether your plan is effective until you need it. This will only lead to problems. Instead, perform drills on a regular basis so that employees and team members can make the recovery plan habit.

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