Disaster recovery and preparedness is an unfortunate aspect of systems administration. This tag should be used for help with planning, implementation and best-practices related to recovering from a catastrophic event on a server or in a datacenter environment.

Recovering from an unplanned, catastrophic outage is a painful process whether you are managing a single server or an entire datacenter. Roof leaks, broken water lines, power outages and any number of other events can take what was a great day and turn it into a living nightmare when you are responsible for keeping systems others rely on available.

The key to recovering from any disaster is preparedness. Knowing the steps required to bring the network and systems back online is critical. Before one can properly prepare for a disaster it is necessary to understand the risks, bottlenecks and other critical components of the overall system, e.g. who controls the power, internet, etc at your site. Understanding the aspects of disaster recovery that are within ones control is a very important aspect when planning; if there is not someone on staff who can fix the power, HVAC, etc make sure that the contact info for someone who can is written down somewhere. Having a large amount of information available before a disaster occurs will help to keep everyone calm, cool and on-task when something actually does happen.

Once a risks are assessed and a plan is created, print out physical copies, email it, and make sure everyone with admin level access to the systems/datacenter has read and is familiar with them. The best plan in the world is worthless if it is on a system that is down and cannot be easily restored without following the plan. After everyone is familiar with the plan, practice when possible; in many situations it may not be realistic, but if possible take advantage of planned downtimes or natural outages to go through the recovery plan and refine it.

In summary, when a disaster happens:

  1. Don't Panic! Panic turns a debacle into a catastrophe every time.
  2. Plan ahead, understand the risks, and know what is within your control
  3. Follow the plan but be flexible, a recovery plan is more of a jazz tune than a military march
  4. Stay calm and organized, use check lists, keep notes
  5. If you are working in a team or group communicate and collaborate
  6. Be vigilant, update your plan as the environment changes
  7. Check your backups, make sure they happen at regular intervals and that the data contained therein is still good.