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Volume 32, Issue 2

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It is no surprise that disaster preparation is top of mind among people these days. The images and stories coming out of Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country inevitably lead to people wondering, “What would I do if the earth moved or water flooded my state, city, or neighborhood?”

From a business perspective, much of disaster planning revolves around all-important data back-up and recovery processes. Whether a disruption is the result of a cataclysmic event or a hardware malfunction, real business continuity cannot be maintained in this digital age without off-site backup. But off-site data backups are no magic solution for disaster recovery. There’s a lot more to the story.

There are many factors that can snag the recovery process if businesses aren’t careful. Here are six of the biggest issues organizations may face as they plan for continuity.

Back-Up Activation Keys and Licensing

Application data isn’t much good if your company has not backed up the activation keys and licensing necessary to restore its software licenses. Many organizations forget how important it is to keep duplicates of the activation and licensing information in safe and redundant locations to ensure a quick recovery after a disruption.

Securely Store Encryption Keys

Similarly, encrypted back-up tapes are about as useful as doorstops when an organization loses its encryption key information. Recent public-sector data breaches have proven that organizations cannot get by with keeping back-up data unencrypted. This makes it is critical for you to plan and execute a key management strategy; you’ll need to think about how keys will be stored and recovered to assure a smooth data recovery process.

Account for Application Customizations

Many organizations will spend millions of dollars on consulting fees to create customized modules and settings for enterprise software only to see it all go up in smoke following a disaster event. A big mistake businesses often make is to back up all of the appropriate application data but forget about duplicating customization information. Remembering to fill this gap ahead of time can not only save money, but also prevent prolonged business disruption following an incident.

What If the Super User is Incapacitated

The saga of Terry Childs, the former San Francisco city network administrator who refused to divulge key infrastructure passwords to his bosses, should teach all organizations the lesson that it is never wise to entrust all of your critical account login information to one superuser. This is a single point of failure in privileged identity that can be particularly painful if an individual who keeps critical login information in his or her head passes away. Childs eventually saw the light after some jail time, but if the keeper of your organization’s password secrets is no longer alive, intimidation won’t solve your problem. This scenario highlights the importance of distributed, fault-tolerant processes and tools that allow you to replicate accounts. Doing so will give your organization the peace of mind that it can recover systems and accounts in the event of a major catastrophe or if key staff become incapacitated (or simply out of reach).

Don’t Let VMs Prevent Partial Recovery

The fact that most back-up and recovery operations are “all or nothing” propositions didn’t pose much of a problem a few short years ago. But the wide-scale adoption of virtualization has thrown a wrinkle in many disaster recovery plans. During the triage stage that often follows a disruption, organizations may need to immediately recover only a piece of the infrastructure such as one critical virtualized server that handles e-mail messaging. But the nature of VMs makes it impossible to restore one machine without many others. As organizations think about business continuity, they really need to plan for partial recovery of the most critical business services first.

The Cloud Can’t Save You

Disaster recovery is often at the top of the laundry list of benefits being touted these days. True, the flexibility and resiliency of the cloud can promote continuity for data contained within that architecture. But that’s the big catch. Much of your data is not contained in the cloud and never will move there. In fact, if your organization faces any of today’s prevailing regulatory compliance mandates, it is likely that your most sensitive data will remain in-house. So, any but the smallest organization that pins its disaster recovery hopes on the cloud may need to rethink those assumptions.

When laying out their disaster recovery plans, organizations should repeatedly seek out their worst-case scenarios. They should be testing their recovery efforts. Businesses often struggle with recovering from a disaster, because they’ve never actually practiced the procedures they’ve planned. Resource limitations and fear of downtime often keep organizations from achieving the ideal full recovery simulations, but at the very least organizations should perform repeat, limited recovery testing.

As president and founder of Lieberman Software, Philip Lieberman developed the first products for the privileged password management and shared account password management space and continues to introduce new solutions to resolve the security threat of common local account credentials. He is the chief blogger at Identity Week www.identityweek.com.