Zayo Logo

Expecting the Best, Preparing for the Worst: The Elements of a Successful Disaster Recovery Plan


by Aaron Werley, Vice President, Technology Zayo

From a young age, we’re taught the importance of fire safety. You install fire alarms, learn to “stop, drop, and roll,” take part in fire drills in school and at the workplace, and keep fire extinguishers on hand. In essence, a fire safety plan combined with the right tools is key to minimizing damage and keeping you safe. 

What if we treated IT disaster recovery with the same level of preparation and planning as a fire safety system? Cyberattacks, network outages, and technology failures are just some of the disasters IT teams face every day. For prepared businesses, the consequences of these disasters can be minimal. 

However, like someone without a proper fire safety plan, alarms, and fire extinguishers in place, a company without an IT disaster plan and the right tools in place will suffer damaging losses in the face of a disaster. An IT disaster can damage your brand reputation, stall operations, and cost your business money – so it’s best to be prepared. 

In this blog, I’ll explain the critical components of a disaster-resistant network, the elements of a good disaster recovery plan, and how to test the effectiveness of that plan. 

Building a Disaster-Resistant Network and IT Stack

Begin your IT disaster plan at the foundation – with the network. 

The network could play multiple roles in an IT disaster. It could be the thing affected by the disaster – for example, your team could be seeking ways to restore connectivity in an outage. It could also be the primary tool to alleviate a disaster – for example, a data center fire may take one of your data centers offline, turning your network into your biggest asset, and minimizing the impact of the disaster. The goal is for your network to be the hero in the face of a disaster, not the victim of one. 

But how do you do that? There are a few ways to design your network – and the rest of your IT technology stack – to be fault-tolerant. In a disaster, your network can become the hero if it’s built with the right network partners and with redundancy, resiliency, route diversity, and dynamic routing in mind.


Backup network connections make a huge difference when it comes to disaster recovery. Know how much bandwidth your business needs to operate and ensure your organization has enough capacity for backup connections. The right network partners will help you ensure you have no single points of failure in your network. 

And redundancy should go beyond the fiber network. Security tools like identity management and VPN solutions should also have backups. Ensure operation systems and business resources enabling your security policy are redundant and available. 

Data backups are critical to disaster recovery, as well. 94% of companies that suffer a catastrophic data loss won’t survive. Ensure your data is backed up on a regular cadence, and consider storing data backups in the Cloud for added data security. Most major cloud service providers (CSPs) offer backup options and redundant storage solutions. 

Route Diversity 

Investing in diverse network infrastructure ensures that if one network path fails, an alternative route can be used to maintain service availability. In other words, diversity reduces the number of single points of failure in your network, improving overall network resilience and continuity. 

Work with a network provider that will show you maps at a street level and is willing to take ownership of ensuring your network has diversity and backups in place. Ensure diversity is being maintained throughout the life of your service. 

Dynamic Routing and SDN

Architect and configure your network to automate remediation, removing the need for manual intervention. For example, ensure your network recognizes when a Point of Presence (PoP) goes offline to reroute traffic dynamically. 

Leveraging dynamic routing and traffic management protocols help your network quickly and effectively adapt to changes, optimizing traffic flow by making quick route adjustments using viable paths to ensure connectivity is maintained. Software-defined networking (SDN) is another technology that aids with efficient routing by centralizing network control and improving traffic management. Many cloud service providers (CSPs) also offer options that leverage dynamic routing and secure connections between on-premises and cloud locations. 

Network Partners

When choosing connectivity partners, consider network providers that own and operate their network assets. If you buy from a network provider that buys their infrastructure from a third party, your provider and ultimately you have less control over the network. The more connectivity layers and players, the more risk you introduce into the operation of your network.

 And since many fiber providers share the same routing, or the same conduit, a provider that owns and operates their network understands where true route diversity exists. Network owners can also more easily maintain their network – something that’s especially important in the case of a disaster. 

The Elements of a Good Disaster Recovery Plan 

Every organization is different, so your disaster recovery plan will need to be tailored to your business. However, there are a few critical steps every IT disaster recovery plan must include. 

  1. Determine what your business needs to function. What tools and technologies do you use every day? What’s most business-critical? Consider the needs for and of your data, systems, and locations. Develop a plan before going ahead and buying two of everything for redundancy. 
  2. Figure out how to solve the availability, connectivity, and performance needs of each requirement and choose solutions accordingly. On a layer-by-layer basis, determine how to solve business requirements and what tools you’ll need to do so. 
  3. Choose your networking and technology partners wisely. This includes network, hardware, software, and cloud partners. Ensure they have the capabilities in place to meet your evolving needs. 
  4. Deploy your plan, practice, test, and audit it regularly. Be your own biggest critic of your disaster recovery plan. Look for gaps and points of failure and refine your plan accordingly. Don’t set it and forget it – technology is continuously evolving, and so should your plan.  Take advantage of technological improvements, and new connectivity options to ultimately improve performance when it’s needed most.

Testing the Effectiveness of Your Disaster Plan

Countless cars meet an untimely demise with a concrete wall to ensure airbags deploy and other safety features work as designed… How can you be sure that your IT disaster recovery plan is effective without facing a disaster? There are a few ways to test the effectiveness of your plan before disaster strikes. 

Simulate worst-case scenarios 

Simulate your worst-case scenarios in a controlled environment where you can fail quickly. Create different kinds of mock disaster scenarios – outages, cyberattacks, data corruption, hardware and software failures, natural disasters, physical security breaches – and see how quickly you can recover. Simulating these disasters will help your organization identify weaknesses in your plan so you can make the adjustments necessary to prepare you for real-life disasters. 

Leverage industry experts

Bring in experts from outside of your organization to validate your disaster recovery plan. Outsiders can provide valuable insights and ensure your plan is comprehensive. Hire third-party auditors to review and evaluate your plan, schedule consultations with experts to review specific components of your plan for recommendations, and bring in ethical hackers to simulate cyberattacks. 

Learn from others

Disaster events happen more regularly than we’d like to think. Learn from disasters other organizations have faced, and leverage the best practices that have been gleaned from these events. Unique real-life disaster scenarios happen all of the time, so the best practices for protecting against these events are continuously evolving. 

Constantly challenge yourself to improve your performance 

Stay informed on new trends and capabilities as technology evolves to better equip you for a continuously changing disaster landscape. The tools you use to fortify your organization now may very well be irrelevant a decade from now. Conduct drills and simulations regularly and commit to continuous learning and training.

Conduct thorough post-incident reviews to figure out what’s working in your plan and what isn’t. Adopt new technologies to enhance disaster recovery as they become available, and be sure to test these tools as you implement them. 

Prepare for IT Disaster Scenarios with Zayo

In sum, your ability to bounce back from a disaster is only as good as the plan you have in place. Don’t let yourself get caught in a fire without an alarm system and exit strategy in place. The right network, tools, knowledge, partnerships, and preparation will allow your organization to remain operational in any disaster. 

Looking for the right network partner to help weather future storms? Zayo owns and operates its fiber network and works with organizations to design a redundant, resilient, and diverse network to protect against outages and other unforeseen events. We also provide network overlay solutions and cloud connectivity to prepare you for whatever comes your way. 

About the Author

by Aaron Werley

Vice President, Technology Zayo

Explore Zayo’s expansive, resilient fiber network

Our expansive, deep, and diverse fiber network maps of North America and Europe include extensive metro connectivity, lit and dark fiber solutions, and expanding 400G and 800G-enabled routes that empower you to reliably leverage new technologies that demand low-latency, high-bandwidth, scalability, and control.