As we continue to push through the fallout of Harvey and Irma, additional hurricanes looming and winter weather on the horizon, this is often the time of year when businesses turn an eye to disaster preparedness and risk mitigation. While there are a number of important considerations to take into account when planning your business continuity efforts, the one we hear about time and again is how much distance is really necessary between the main work site (where business information is obtained and used) and a disaster recovery site (where business information is replicated for restoration purposes and work can be performed in the event of catastrophe).
In the words of the Disaster Recovery Journal, “there is no rule of thumb when it comes to the appropriate distance between your data center and your recovery site.” For some businesses, a good disaster recovery site could be as far away as 1,000 miles. Between 2007 and 2010, however, the average distance between a primary data center and its furthest backup data center seemed to shrink—the majority of surveyed companies that had disaster recovery sites appeared comfortable with distances of less than 100 miles, and many (a full 21 percent) were comfortable with distances of less than 25 miles.
Do I Really Need A Recovery Site?
According to the Disaster Recovery Journal, 76 percent of companies haven’t declared an official disaster in the past five years—that means that nearly a quarter of companies have. While the prospects of needing a recovery site may not seem likely, research from Forrester indicates the impacts of such an event can be substantial. In 2010, for example, the average time needed to recover from an event was 18.5 hours, and the main events were not caused by natural disasters. Whereas most business leaders focus on the impacts of events caused by nature, the reality is that most events stem from power failures, IT hardware failures, network failures and human errors.
Should I Build My Own Recovery Site?
Most large companies are capable of building and managing disaster recovery sites of their own, but that means they have to pay for power, management, land use and operating expenses for two or more sites. Small and mid-sized companies have to be a bit savvier with their budgets, and for them, opting for an IT service provider with disaster recovery solutions can help them mitigate their risks without breaking the bank. These providers will offer disaster recovery site services based on monthly costs that don’t fluctuate with changes in the tax code, power costs or salary inflation. For more than half of Forrester’s surveyed companies, this option proved fruitful:
How Do I Determine the Appropriate Distance between My Site and the Recovery Site?
Determining the appropriate distance between sites for your business is a personal affair based exclusively on your needs and requirements. If you are thinking about a secondary disaster recovery site for your business data, take the following questions into consideration:
Is there enough distance between your main site and your disaster recovery site to escape the same set of threats? There is a fine line between too far and not far enough in distance determination. If your business is in the line of fire for hurricanes, for example, then you will want to look for a recovery site that is more than 100 miles away from your main site—this should prevent a hurricane event from taking out both your main site and your recovery site. If your business instead faces threats from tornadoes, 10 miles is an appropriate distance for your recovery site. If you choose a site too far away, it may be too difficult or impossible for staff to trek to the site to restore the business to normal operation.
Here is a short guide for distances per threats facing your business:
- Hurricanes: 105 miles of distance
- Volcanoes: More than 70 miles distance
- Floods: More than 40 miles distance
- Power Grid Failure: More than 20 miles distance, or shorter if generators are in place
- Tornadoes: Around 10 miles distance
Do you know your recovery requirements? Uptime, latency and the data you will recover are all dependent on your recovery requirements. Before you build a disaster recovery plan and select a recovery site, know where individuals will work and what applications must be recovered (and in what order) and how fast they need to be or can be recovered.
Be aware of technology limitations. It’s important to also consider the impact of distance on latency. Bandwidth is only one factor for data replication, the other is distance. Generally, the farther one site is from another, the higher the delay in the delivery of each packet, or “latency.” If your recovery site is too far away, your data might not mirror in real time, and thus, a disaster could cause some data loss. In other words, don’t select a site that is farther away than needed simply because you think you’re being safer in doing so.
Consider cost. Unless your company is very large, building your own recovery site is financially out of the question. Instead, look for a service provider that can handle your recovery needs for you—your accounting team and IT staff will be happier for it.
Do you need access to your recovery site? If you plan on managing your recovery site with your own IT resources, you’ll need to consider the importance of accessibility in the event of a disaster. Your staff will not only need to be able to physically access the site (meaning, you won’t want to have it too far away from your primary location), but you’ll also have to consider if they are willing to leave their families in the midst of a disaster. If you opt for a service provider, be sure they have staffing on hand 24 hours a day, regardless of events, and a variety of redundancy options (see here for examples of what to look for). For small and mid-sized businesses, selecting a service provider to handle disaster recovery needs is the most cost-effective and reliable solution.