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What Is A Runbook?

what is a runbook
August 20, 2018 / Evolve IP

Don’t have a Runbook? Run, don’t walk to get one.

A runbook can help ensure your organization is prepared for a service disruption. The runbook establishes disaster recovery testing, planning, and processes.

Humans don’t like to dwell on the disasters that may befall them. So, it’s no surprise that businesses (run by those same humans) can be inclined to avoid thinking too much about things that could go wrong at the organization. However, not being prepared makes disaster recovery all the more difficult. Your business needs a runbook.

After all, Evolve IP’s 2018 survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals and C-level executives showed that 1 in 3 organizations have already experienced an incident that required disaster recovery. No matter how likely you think it is that you’ll be in that 33%, a runbook is essential to your IT resilience.


What is a runbook?

A runbook is basically an instruction manual for your business of what to do in the event of an emergency situation.

An effective disaster recovery runbook will consolidate all of your organization’s advance planning to address the technology, people, and process complexities your business may encounter in case of a system failure, network breach, or another form of disaster. The runbook outlines many elements, including:

  • What essential steps to take to recover systems and data
  • Who will be responsible for what actions in the event of a real-life disaster scenario
  • How change will be managed
  • Where backup systems and data will be held
  • When reporting to the necessary authorities or relevant stakeholders will be required.

93% of companies, that lost their data for 10 days or more, filed for bankruptcy within one year of disaster.


Readying a runbook

Disaster recovery (DR) recognizes the worst might happen, and that IT downtime interferes with customer service, taking orders, completing transactions, treating patients and more. No matter your industry, you need to be ready for technological or data disruptions, be they due to human error, device or power failure, malevolent attack, or man-made or natural disaster.

The runbook doesn’t have to be set in stone. In fact, it shouldn’t be, as it needs to be regularly updated to reflect changes in your infrastructure, personnel, and new threats. Yet, the runbook should be developed before a crisis occurs. After all, we all think much more clearly when trying to plan ahead as opposed to when we are racing against the clock to get computers and networks back up and running and to regain access to data.

There are many factors to consider in preparing a runbook:

  1. Roles and responsibilities (internally, and also who has ownership of what if you are working with service providers)
  2. Recovery priorities for business IT assets
  3. Definition of a disaster, event thresholds
  4. Disaster scenarios and causes of outage that might affect your business
  5. Infrastructure overview
  6. System configuration
  7. Alert response procedures
  8. Escalation procedures
  9. Restoration processes
  10. Backup configuration


Make the Runbook Readable

The more comprehensive the runbook, the clearer your organization’s thinking is likely to be in the event of a true situation. At the same time, make sure that the runbook is written in a logical, easy-to-read style. This is not the time to pen the technological equivalent of War and Peace. Keep it simple and direct. When possible, consider using decision trees and charts to help system administrators more immediately identify what they need to know.

Also, make sure that the relevant stakeholders know exactly where to access the runbook (is it on a shared drive or company portal or a hard copy document?) when under duress. Having multiple copies of a runbook is advisable. Ensuring one of those is offsite (so that it can actually be accessed in a disaster situation) is essential.

As we’ve noted in the past, “if testing a disaster recovery plan is a rehearsal, a DR runbook is the script….This script is not only important for the actors on stage in front of the audience, but also for the technology guys who are keeping the show running behind the scenes.”

While your particular runbook will be distinct to your organization, there are certain commonalities you can work from as a starting point. Evolve IP’s Disaster Recovery Runbook Template can jumpstart your preparations. Download the template today!

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