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Surviving Non-traditional Data Disasters

by Ian Masters, sales director at Sunbelt System Software- May 2005

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Ian  Masters
About the author:-
Ian Masters (above) is
the UK sales director at
Sunbelt System Software
"Design to fail - because... No matter what kind of solutions you are going to use, their inner resiliency, the level of redundancy you are going to introduce (multiple servers, storage, datacenters, IT stuff), at some point something is going to break. Its not a matter of IF, but only of WHEN.

I dont want to have a monolith in my datacenter, something that is supposed to never fail. Because, when it will fail, Im sure there will be something in its design that will prevent me from recovering its services in a desirable timeframe. Because its designers never thought any possible problem, and the countermeasure for it."
Do we really need backups? - by Luca Dell'Oca, (May 12, 2014)

SSD Data Recovery?
What is Data Recovery?
History of Disk to Disk Backup
Surviving Non-traditional Data Disasters
the Data Emergency Guide for Consumers (pdf)
the Data Emergency Guide for Enterprises (pdf)
Will the Recession ReCenter Data Recovery to China?
Recovering Data from Drowned / Flooded Hard Drives
Recovering a Business from Administrator Induced Data Loss
Editor's note:-

I used to feel smug about our own disaster recovery plans here at

But I discovered a biological weakness last summer when, following a power cut, I went to our barn to switch on the generator.

When I moved the cover I also moved a live wasps nest.

I got stung about 6 times before I had time to realise what was going on and made a dash back to the main building followed by a buzzing swarm.

It was a bad summer for wasps. We had 5 nests around the farmhouse, and as we found out later, 2 in the barn. The pest control companies were busy and it took a long time before they got round to us and anyone could safely get access back to the barn, where we also stored one set of offsite backups.

This article Ian Masters which looks at how "non-traditional" disasters, such as gas leaks and human error, can impact on the operations of your organisation.

It's a salutary warning that real life is not always as tidy as the risk factors we include in our disaster recovery plans.
Many companies associate disaster recovery with catastrophic events - earthquakes, floods, fires and other natural or man-made disasters that make data recovery from production machines nearly or totally impossible. While organisations must plan for such events, it's just as important to prepare for less cataclysmic possibilities, which can just as easily bring business to a halt.

Many "non-traditional" disasters can impact the operations of your organisation. For example, gas leaks and other facilities issues typically don't cause permanent damage but they can easily make the entire building unusable for days or even weeks. Police investigations, fumigations and other unavoidable problems can arise without warning, prohibiting users from accessing data systems and possibly your entire office space.

Companies can recover from the destruction of data and/or data systems with tape backups, replicated copies and other tools. But what happens when a disaster doesn't take out the data centre - or even destroy the data? Non-catastrophic disasters can still cause a significant period of system downtime.

Initially you will need to follow some basic steps of creating any DR plan. Firstly, dedicate an individual or team, dependant on the size of your organisation, who are responsible for ALL aspects of the DR plan. Then continue with the following:
  • Get management buy-in Document the process
  • Investigate the options
  • Define your recovery point and time objectives
  • Create and document response procedures for different situations
This last step is the most important step for non-traditional disasters. Make sure you and your management understand what steps you will take in the event of different types of disaster.

Generally, when non-traditional disasters occur, you must make some tough decisions about how to handle the situation. Can you access data systems remotely or will it be necessary to set up everything in a temporary location?

If you have remote access, you can find employees temporary space to continue working on the original systems. If employees can't access data systems from another location you must make even tougher choices to determine how to proceed.

You must determine how you're going to restore data.
If you have replicated data systems in a disaster recovery location you can decide if you want to wait out the disaster or failover to the alternative systems.

Remember that failover will require restoration operations to the original systems when the emergency is over; so short-term outages may be something you just need to muddle through.

If the outage will continue for a significant period of time (based on your organisation's needs) then it may be necessary to perform failover and eventual restoration operations to get back up and running.

If you don't have replication or other mirroring tools, you must either wait out the problem or restore from tape and/or other backups. In this case, you've hopefully been storing tape backups off-site (even if that means you've simply taken them home with you). If not, a non-traditional emergency could create a situation that will take systems offline for the entire duration of the outage, regardless of the length of the problem.

If you do have backup tapes, you can restore the tapes to temporary servers in another location to get back to business quickly. Keep in mind that this solution also means you'll need to perform the same operation in reverse with the new tapes you make from the temporary systems in order to get back in action in your original environment.

This is why planning and documenting is so important. Your business has to have the ability to make hard decisions even when all the key members of staff are not available.
Can you determine how long the problem is going to last? What DR systems do you have in place? Will implementation and restoration of your DR plan, or some part of it, actually have any real business benefit? Will implementation end up restricting access to data and/or applications in the long term?

Regardless of what type of DR systems you've implemented, non-traditional disasters require making some tough, quick decisions. In many cases, you'll eventually be able to get back to your original location, but what you do in the interim could make or break your business. ...Sunbelt System Software profile
Editor's footnote:- since a gas leak was one of the scenarios mentioned in the above article, I've included this story from our news archive.

ActionFront Recovers Data from 21 Chlorine Drenched Servers after Train Disaster

Atlanta, GA - February 24, 2005 - ActionFront Data Recovery Labs recently assisted Avondale Mills to recover from a major disaster.

The headline in the Augusta Chronicle on January 12, 2005 could not be any more definite and final: "Avondale Mills' Electronic Records Destroyed in Wreck."

This was a follow-up story about the January 6, Graniteville, SC train disaster that precipitated an evacuation and caused loss of life for nine people.

The wreck also destroyed computers in seven Avondale sites including the company's data processing center, located just yards from the wreck site. Included in the lost data were production programs and the company's financial records.

Due to the diligence of the IT team at Avondale, it turns out the bad news in the headline was premature. While the 90 tons of chlorine gas from the massive train wreck destroyed all the circuit boards, cabling and other parts in the computer-servers, virtually all of the data was in fact recovered.

Acting on the recommendation of Restoration Technologies Incorporated, Avondale's CIO Barry Graham located ActionFront Data Recovery Labs and engaged their 24/7 Critical Response Team for the assessment and possible recovery of one of the damaged servers. Soon after the authorities allowed access to the wreck-site, ActionFront's Atlanta lab received the set of damaged drives and went to work. The non-functional server-drives all suffered extensive corrosion and looked like 'complete write-offs' at first glance.

Happily it turns out that the corrosion had not seriously compromised the platters (internal disks in the hard drives) or the data on those platters.

Wearing protective equipment to shield themselves from toxic materials, the data recovery specialists first removed all damaged parts and cleaned up the drives. Circuit boards and other parts that matched the damaged drives were located in ActionFront's massive parts inventory (20,000 drives and counting) and the drives were revived long enough to access the still-readable raw content and make close-to mirror-image quality copies.

ActionFront then used the images to rebuild the data into usable files.

Encouraged by the first successful recovery, Avondale hand delivered additional sets of server-drives for recovery. Ultimately, the data from 21 servers (over 100 drives) was recovered in the space of two weeks as the Avondale employees travelled back and forth between Graniteville and Atlanta and multiple ActionFront teams worked 24/7 on the damaged media. ActionFront procured additional parts and equipment as needed and the teams solved many new problems including working with certain enterprise storage architectures that added to the complexity of the process.

Mr. Graham says "Of course we could have rebuilt our servers from our backups but we would have lost our most recent transactions and changes. Working with ActionFront meant that we were able to restore up-to-date and complete data-sets, greatly enhancing our business continuity".

Avondale has overcome many challenges in the wake of such a tragedy. Thanks to ActionFront, the potential data loss issues were quickly resolved. ...ActionFront Data Recovery profile, Data Recovery

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