Disaster recovery planning tools: Are they worth it?

Are disaster recovery planning tools worth the price? The answer depends on your organization's IT complexity, size and disaster recovery experience.

In my discussions with IT organizations on the subject of disaster recovery (DR) planning and the tools they use, the most popular tool is still Microsoft Office. Even those using a sophisticated DR planning database-centered tool still use Office heavily in the process. So let's get past the obvious: what about something more than an office suite? Can DR tools help with your DR planning and execution? Are they worth the price?

There are three circumstances that tend to require supplemental tools to handle DR planning. These are complexity of the IT infrastructure, size of your organization and training. Let's take a look at each of these in turn.

DR planning tools and IT complexity

IT complexity directly affects the complexity of the DR planning process as well as archival, testing, update and execution of the DR plan. Most large enterprises have many IT systems interconnected in a complex dependency web that requires them to resort to commercial asset management and automated systems management suites to get a handle on their infrastructures. It goes without saying that if your IT organization includes one or more configuration management databases (CMDBs) you will require an equivalent level of DR planning and management tools and sn associated database to properly build and manage your DR plan.

Just as complex IT organizations have found their CMDB tools well worth the investment, they find DR planning and maintenance tools just as valuable. Most of the DR planning tools on the market utilize cack office components, such as MS SQL server. Many have integrations to pull IT system configuration information from popular CMDB systems management tools.

I've also talked to some companies that have built their own DR planning tools using the development interfaces available in their systems management CMDBs. This allows them to store DR plans, configurations and processes with their existing systems management counterparts. The benefits these customers reap from this level of integration is that day-to-day IT change management processes can be simply integrated into DR plan updates so that the DR plan never falls out of synchronization with the IT infrastructure.

Size of the organization

At first blush, company size would equate to IT complexity. This is true in many cases, but not in all. Some small businesses that have predominantly e-commerce-based operations may have complex IT infrastructures that demand automated management tools. Conversely, I've talked to some large manufacturing organizations that have relatively simple IT systems that can be managed without complex automated systems management. However, where DR planning meets business continuity planning (BCP), an organization that does not require sophisticated IT systems management tools may require DR planning tools to support the overall business continuity plan. DR is a subset of business continuity, dealing with the IT recovery from disaster as opposed to ensuring business service levels during normal operations.

DR tools from business continuity consultants

In a recent tip, I discussed the value of BCP consultants. If your organization has chosen to use a BCP consultant's expertise, many BCP service providers offer tools of their own upon which their training is based. In these cases, you are best served utilizing the tools offered by the consultancy due to familiarity gained in your staff through the training. Caution should be exercised: Consultant DR tools that lack integration with existing systems may cause more problems than they are worth. Direct integration to popular systems management infrastructures is something lacking in today's DR planning tools, but open interfaces in more popular tools and integration with Microsoft Office products enables consultants to build custom integrations into your systems management CMDB.

Disaster recovery planning tools

A number of DR planning tools are available on the market. Each focuses on a different aspect of DR planning, management and execution. For example, some tools focus on helping you build a notification, crisis and incident management plan beyond the basic DR plan. Others focus on integration with your IT service catalog and information technology infrastructure library (ITIL)-based processes. Picking a tool that can interact with the ITIL process discipline in your organization is critical to the tool's success.

DR planning tools that offer incident management should be deployed either at a third-party hosting facility or in both your production and DR facilities. Most DR tool vendors that offer incident management packages also offer a hosted version of the tool -- something that is very important during a disaster event since you need access to your DR tool when your data center is inoperable or inaccessible.

The bottom line value of a DR tool meets these criteria:

  • Your IT infrastructure or business continuity plan is complex enough to merit the aid of a tool.
  • The tool you choose complements and interacts with your existing systems management tools, ITIL processes and procedures.
  • The tool supports your staff's DR training.
  • The tool assists in not only planning, but plan execution and incident management.

If your tool doesn't meet these needs, it may not be worth the expense.

About the author:
Richard Jones is vice president and service director for Data Center Strategies at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group. He can be reached at
rjones@burtongroup.com.

Let us know what you think about this tip. Was it useful? Email Site Editor Matt Stansberry.

This was first published in December 2008

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