Five Aspects of Usability to Integrate into Your Disaster Recovery Planning

Disaster recovery planning for your IT installations may use automated procedures for a number of situations. Virtual machines can often be switched or re-started in case of server failure, and network communications can be rerouted without human intervention. For other requirements, people will be involved in getting IT systems up and running properly after an incident. But people do not switch into auto-run modes like a machine. They can be affected by the surprise factor of an IT disaster and by the pressure to bring things back to normal. Five aspects of usability may need to be designed into your DR planning if you want the best chances of a satisfactory recovery.

These dimensions of usability have been identified by Jakob Nielsen (author of “Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity”) and Ben Shneiderman (computer science professor). They were not necessarily thinking of disaster recovery at the time – the application to DR and DRP is ours.

  1. Learnability. When people start using disaster recovery tools (maybe at the same time the disaster happens), how fast can they achieve a minimum level of competence?
  2. Efficiency. Once people know the DR solution, how fast and how easily can they make it work for them, for example, when a key server crashes or the data centre is flooded?
  3. Memorability. Suppose people are trained in the use of the DR solution and then do not use it for a while. How easily can they get back up to speed?
  4. Errors. How many errors do people make when applying the DR solution, how critical are these errors (like duplicating the wrong data onto the only surviving server) and how easily are the errors corrected?
  5. Satisfaction. Do people appreciate being able to use the DR solution, or are they apprehensive about it?

In this software-defined age, these points may escape notice because they do not apply to mechanical or digital systems. But for effective disaster recovery, CIOs and IT managers would do well to assess their solutions according to each of the criteria and adjust if necessary.