Steps to Build a Rock-Solid DR Runbook - Zerto

From Chaos to Calm: Steps to Build a Rock-Solid DR Runbook

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

When disaster strikes, preparedness determines whether an organization quickly recovers or goes offline, suffering data loss and financial impact. If you want to recover from disaster well, then a disaster recovery (DR) runbook should be an indispensable part of your DR strategy.

A DR runbook is a collection of recovery processes and documentation that simplifies managing a DR environment when testing or performing live failovers. Together, these procedures prepare an organization to respond to a disaster in a timely and efficient manner, minimizing downtime and data loss.

DR runbooks are also guides that disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) providers use to help organizations architect and manage a complete DR solution. DRaaS providers emphasize that a DR runbook should follow these three points:

  • Clearly delineated roles and responsibilities among your team and DRaaS provider
  • Continuously updated escalation processes and procedures
  • Regularly tested DR processes, with phased recovery

The following simple steps walk you through how to create an effective DR runbook, from start to finish.

Step 1: Identify Critical Systems and Data

To begin building your DR runbook, identify the critical systems and data that need to be protected in the event of a disaster. These include servers, databases, applications, important documents, other systems required to operate your business, and business-critical data like customer information and financial records.

Across all businesses, network preparedness is a critical system to identify and manage. Make sure the following, at a minimum, are recorded in your DR runbook:

  • Subnet ranges and IP addresses currently being used
  • Usernames and passwords for network and infrastructure
  • Licensing information (keys and logins)
  • Domain registrar and DNS record management details such as logins or important DNS records that need to be changed

Step 2: Develop a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)

After you identify critical systems and data, it’s time to develop a business impact analysis (BIA). A BIA is a document that outlines the potential impact a disaster could have on your business. It should describe the likelihood of disasters, their potential financial impact, and the critical systems and data that need to be protected to avoid those impacts.

To identify potential business impact, ask yourself questions like:

  • Which applications are most important?
  • What virtualized infrastructure makes up those applications?
  • What is the current service-level agreements (SLAs) of these applications?

To determine which applications are most important, consider bucketing them into tiers. For example, tier-1 applications are mission critical, tier-2 applications are still essential but should be prioritized after tier 1 applications, tier-3 applications are important but not vital to business function, and so on.

Another metric that should inform potential business impact is your total cost of ownership (TCO). TCO is the estimated total dollar impact if a disaster occurs, and an application goes offline. Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, has a helpful TCO calculator that can show you how much continuous data protection could save your data and your wallet.

Step 3: Develop an Escalation Plan

With the BIA complete, you can begin developing an escalation plan. An escalation plan describes how to respond to a disaster, including procedures for restoring critical systems and data; communicating with employees, customers, and other stakeholders; and resuming normal business operations.

A well-established escalation plan is an integral part of your overall DR strategy: it ensures that the right people address the situation at the right time. The escalation plan clearly defines roles and responsibilities, not only between yourself and a DRaaS provider, but internally as well.

When disaster strikes, quick and effective decision making is critical to minimize impact and reduce downtime. If the escalation plan isn’t followed, your SLAs will be directly impacted regardless of what DR solution you have in place.

Step 4: Determine How to Test Your DR Solution

Once your escalation plan is complete, you need to verify that your DR solution works as expected. Testing your DR plan will help you identify potential issues and make any necessary changes before a disaster occurs.

Many DRaaS providers recommend conducting DR tests in phases. Doing so allows you to baseline your expected recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs).

Phased testing also helps DRaaS providers use a variety of variables to categorize applications for grouped protection. A strong DR solution will group and recover virtual instances that either function similarly (e.g., grouping SQL servers or domain name servers) or comprise a single application (e.g., a MySQL server or web server). This ensures application consistency during disaster recovery.

Finally, phased DR testing helps avoid oversaturating network traffic. When you are structuring your DR plan, consider creating isolated networks specifically for failover testing.

A step-by-step view of failover testing provides powerful insight into how your DR solution will perform during a disaster, but not all DR services have this capability. Zerto exports a PDF containing every step taken during the failover while simultaneously simplifying the process with automation and orchestration.

Find out more about how Zerto’s non-disruptive DR testing can simplify and strengthen your organization’s failover testing.

Step 5: Review and Update Your DR Runbooks

To keep your DR runbook current and effective, you should regularly review, update, and test it. This includes updating the escalation plan and contact lists. When this information is regularly updated and shared with all necessary shareholders, you maintain business-saving disaster recovery with RPOs of seconds and RTOs of minutes, minimizing downtime and ensuring that important data is not lost.

Complete Your DR Strategy with a Runbook

Creating a DR runbook may seem like a daunting task, but when you follow these steps and choose the right DRaaS provider, it doesn’t have to be. A DR runbook is a crucial tool that can make or break your organization’s disaster response. By following the steps outlined in this blog, organizations can start to develop a comprehensive and effective disaster recovery plan that clearly delineates roles and responsibilities, defines potential impacts and how to mitigate them, and outlines a plan for regular updates and testing. With these preparations in place, your organization will be ready to quickly and calmly recover from any disaster.


Looking for a place to start? Check out the Disaster Recovery Runbook Template and work with our friends at Net3 Technology to run through your DR runbook today!

Otherwise, keep on increasing your knowledge about DR with our Disaster Recovery Guide!

Anthony Dutra

Anthony Dutra is a Technical Marketing Manager (TME) at Zerto, a Hewlett Packard Company who specializes in solution architecture, designing microservices in the public cloud, and developing web3 (blockchain) applications. For the past decade, Anthony has leveraged his Master’s in IT Management to become a trusted technical partner with organizations seeking to modernize their data center or migrate to the cloud.