For this blog post, I'd like to discuss a topic that seems to be getting a lot of attention with most of my customers lately - Business Continuity Planning. Typically, the discussions regarding this topic run the gamut but within those discussions I often find that there is confusion and misunderstanding around key topics as well as a blending of separate topics (primarily High Availability and Disaster Recovery). Often when discussing Disaster Recovery, I hear customer(s) use words such as automatic failover and zero downtime. While important to any business continuity discussion, "automatic failover" and "zero downtime" are typically a part of the high-availability planning rather than the disaster recovery planning. Sure, you could argue that it's a matter of semantics and it doesn't really matter, but in my experience, I have learned that is important to keep HA planning and DR planning separate because with SharePoint the optimal architectural design for HA may look very different that the optimal architectural design for DR.
In this post I will define key terms and concepts and then provide a list of questions that can be used to help facilitate conversations around Business Continuity Planning.
Business Continuity refers to the activity performed by an organization to ensure that critical business functions will be available to entities that require access to those functions. Typically, business continuity planning for SharePoint environments include architecting solutions for High Availability, planning for Disaster Recovery and conducting normal day-to-day operations such as applying software patches and taking backups.
For more information on business continuity management and SharePoint, please see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj715263.aspx
High-Availability is typically defined in terms of the end user's ability to access the system during designated times and perform expected business functions. As a result, the goal of High Availability planning is usually to minimize or eliminate system downtime.
In the case of SharePoint, the following descriptions usually apply to High Availability (HA):
For more information about SharePoint High Availability see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj715263.aspx
Disaster Recovery Planning typically focuses on recovering from a planned or unplanned outage. It entails defining detailed operational processes to be followed to ensure that recovery is possible and documents business requirements around recovery. Such requirements typically include but are not limited to RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective). Most Disaster Recovery plans cover the scenario of a complete loss of the primary data center and as such often include a secondary data center located some distance apart from the primary data center.
In the case of SharePoint, the following descriptions usually apply to Disaster Recovery (DR):
For more information about SharePoint Disaster Recovery Planning see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff628971.aspx
Now that some common terminology and SharePoint specific characteristics have been established, it is time to list some of the important questions that should be answered as part of any Business Continuity Planning exercise.
These discussion question are broken down into five categories of questions: Business Requirements, Infrastructure Inventory, Operational Practices, Asset Prioritization, and Service Prioritization
The following business requirements should be defined and documented as part of the Business Continuity Planning Process
The following questions help define and document the physical infrastructure that will be utilized for business continuity discussions.
The following questions, help define and document that operational aspects of running a SharePoint environment
Asset prioritization and inventory is an important part of the Business Continuity Planning process. Identifying what business assets are most critical, where they are stored and what priority they should have from a high availability and/or disaster recovery perspective will help business entities devise an optimized business continuity plan.
Since the focus here is about business continuity planning for SharePoint, these questions focus specifically on SharePoint assets but a complete business continuity plan should inventory all important information assets including those NOT stored in SharePoint. (Note: Though intended for use in the upgrade process, the workbook at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=252097 can be used as a tool to assist in documenting the various SharePoint Assets).
Again there are non SharePoint services that are going to need to be prioritized and inventoried but these questions just focus on SharePoint
A big thanks goes out to some colleagues whose feedback and discussion around this topic have been greatly appreciated and helped to complete the picture in several areas! Thanks Bob Fox (http://blogs.technet.com/b/sharepoint_foxhole/), Kirk Evans (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/kaevans/) and Cory Roberts. It’s awesome working with you guys!
I hope you have found this information useful and as always I welcome comments, feedback, community insights and corrections!
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