Disaster Recovery Planning

by Admin 22. September 2013 14:19


or how not to be in trouble with your users


Last week I had a service outage due to an incident that I had not properly planned for. Before I tell you about it, I should probably remind you that I run what my wife describes as an overly complicated home network. She is non-technical, so everything is the network and when something doesn’t work the network is down. Fortunately we can agree on one thing; when the network is down it is my fault!


The nature of the outage


Having arrived home after some foreign trip (I may just have been in the Grim North, all trips just blend into one now) I was confronted by a group of dissatisfied users. I say a group, I really mean my wife and daughter. My son is technical so if he had been inconvenienced he probably would have just solved the problem. Upon further inquiry I discover that no one can log into the domain.

Before we go any further I should explain that I run an AD domain at home primarily for my own amusement. I could provide many of the home IT services without this but felt I needed to know more about AD management and so the rest of the family need to be my willing assistants. Running an AD domain really wasn’t a challenge so I decided to make it hard for myself by doing it without the aid of Microsoft. I run a Samba 4 domain, which is possibly one small step beyond experimental software. Don’t tell my wife!

Now I am a little ADHD about resilience so I have standby hot and cold servers ready to spring into action. I have redundant disks in redundant servers that have redundant network cards. Alas I only have the one data centre and spinning up a cloud based solution is a little beyond my means. Besides, if the whole house has gone I suspect my wife won’t let me fiddle with IT! So with all this redundancy, what on earth could have taken my domain out?

Well it would seem that a combination of factors were to blame; aren’t they always? The first problem was that I was running on a single domain controller. My secondary domain controller was down awaiting an upgrade. I could have had it running but I was waiting for a new version of my favourite OS FreeBSD and had decided not to upgrade until I could put the new OS on. I could have had the old version running of course but that was a (poor) decision I had made. So there, right away, was part of my redundancy gone; simply because I had made some operational decisions which had affected my DR solution. I knew what I was doing but did it anyway.

But even so, what about the rest of it; surely I was safe, what went wrong? Well unfortunately I was preparing for the wrong disaster! The disaster I had prepared for was the complete loss of a server. Systems would have detected that on the network and leapt to take action. The disaster I got was the failure of the Domain controller software and nothing else. The software kept running but not in a meaningful way. Nothing detected that there was a problem so my domain controller hummed away providing all other services (DLNA media server, Subversion server etc.) but not domain services or file sharing. As a result the mission critical service of providing access to homework and other files failed silently leaving my most important users unable to access their core applications and data!

And what caused this disaster I hear you ask? Was it some software flaw or perhaps a security violation? Not quite. It would seem that a ladder, left against a wall in my data centre (for that read separate office building near the house) fell over and hit the keyboard on the KVM switch attached to my core server stack. It happened to be switched to my domain controller and worse than that logged in (I know, shock, horror). Whatever set of keyboard codes it produced sent my DC into a tailspin without actually killing it (or interrupting the network stack so it looked dead).

All those preparations I had taken were worthless as I was preparing for the wrong disaster and the wrong set of symptoms. Things were made worse by my own poor operational decisions regarding DR and standby equipment. And what lessons have I learned? Well my ladder is now tied down…

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FreeBSD | Technical

Comments (1) -

9/22/2013 10:40:57 PM #

You couldn't make this kind of comedy up.


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