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For True Disaster Recovery Readiness, Think Beyond Cloud Basics

Aside from death and taxes, the only certainty in life is that disasters will happen, often with little to no warning — and this hard truth has serious implications for the valuable data that law firms work with every day. 

Patrick Skerrett

A disaster can be environmental in nature, like a hurricane, tsunami or earthquake that knocks out data centers for days at a time. Alternately, it could be a manmade disaster, like an act of terrorism or — on a more mundane level — some sort of human error that has unintended consequences. In fact, according to a recent study, anywhere from 70% to 75% of data center failures are caused by human error. If that’s not enough to worry about, disaster can also come knocking at your door in the form of ransomware that can cripple servers and bring operations to a grinding halt. There was a sevenfold increase in ransomware attacks in 2020 alone. 

Losing data through any of these disasters can have a big impact on a law firm’s reputation and their ability to effectively meet their clients’ needs and maintain a competitive position in the marketplace. 

Given the fact that it’s not a question of “if” a disaster will ever befall an organization but “when,” how should legal organizations best approach their disaster recovery plans?  

While the cloud offers a critical way for legal organizations to reduce risk and fortify their data against disaster, not all clouds are the same, making it important for organizations to understand what type of cloud business partner you’re entrusting your data to and what you should be looking for from your cloud providers. 


For decades, disaster recovery has long focused on the recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO). In layman’s terms, that refers to how far back you can recover data and how long it takes you to recover after a disaster has struck. 

Most clouds were built around the concept of having a data center in a single building at one location, and then another data center in a building a couple hundred miles away that you fail over to during the course of several hours.  

“Not all clouds are the same, making it important for organizations to understand what type of cloud business partner you’re entrusting your data to and what you should be looking for from your cloud providers.” 

In this type of traditional setup, your legal staff could be disrupted for the better part of a workday before the system comes back online. While the RPO would ensure their data would be safely there waiting for them, the RTO would take a big bite out of your employees’  productivity while they waited for their critical files to be restored. 

A more modern approach is to design for high availability. A high-availability setup might involve three buildings in a single location — each with its own power, network, heating and cooling — that are virtualized and serve as a cluster of availability zones. This high availability means that RTO is largely moot, since the “no single point of failure” nature of the availability zone keeps everything up and running. 

However, the best of both worlds is to combine both approaches: to have a high-availability cluster that works in conjunction with a failover site a couple hundred miles away. 

Why is this important? Consider the recent crippling power outages in Texas that occurred due to unexpectedly severe winter storms. A regional disruption like that might take down all of the buildings in the impacted geographic location, particularly if the disruption lasts for days, as it did in Texas. But if a backup site is located an appropriate distance away — for this example, let’s say Missouri — it would be unaffected, and it would provide a viable failover site. 

When evaluating your cloud business partners, you should place a premium on those that are designed with a combination of both approaches. This provides both high availability and geo-resiliency — ensuring not just higher uptime and availability, but also the ability to withstand an entire regional disruption.  


Legal organizations should also consider whether their cloud business partner offers archived backups in the event of a ransomware attack. After all, the highest level of availability and the shortest possible RTO window isn’t going to be much use if one of your professionals has accidentally uploaded an infected copy of a document that is slowly starting to infect and encrypt all your other privileged and confidential files. You need the ability to roll back to protect against that sort of catastrophic event. 

Suppose an infected file got uploaded to the cloud on a Monday at noon. You’d want your cloud to offer the ability to roll back to 11 a.m. on Monday for the last known good copy. In the best designed clouds, there will also be offline copies in multiple geos to recover and restore from a specific point in time, not just one single location. 

In fact, as an additional protective measure against data loss, geographically dispersed cold storage is also an important consideration. Rather than just having active copies in one region, maintaining cold standby copies in another location adds another layer of resiliency and protection.  

Disaster recovery may be a serious matter, but it doesn’t have to be any more difficult than it needs to be. By choosing your cloud providers wisely — and making sure that the clouds they entrust their data to have a combination of availability and geo-resiliency, as well as archiving and rollback capabilities — legal organizations can ensure they’re ready for whatever unexpected disaster comes their way.