What Is Disaster Recovery Testing and Why Is It Important?

What is disaster recovery and why is it important to your business? If you don’t have a DR plan in place, your company is at risk. This post unpacks the importance of testing your DRP.

What is disaster recovery testing? It's vital to your company's business continuity and disaster recovery plan. Disaster recovery plans define the process of executing detailed stress-testing of your protocols to ensure your organization can recover your data, restore your systems, and continue business operations in the event of severe disruption.

This post unpacks how disaster can affect your business and the types of disasters presenting a threat to your systems. We'll look at the functions of DR testing, including the testing process, recovery times, and best practices.

Defining disasters

Categorizing disaster events is challenging, but they are either environmental or man-made. Here are the types of disaster scenarios facing companies.

Operational disasters

These disasters affect business operations. Examples are when companies lose a manager, director, or head of the department. Companies can experience operational disasters if partners break contracts or the business environment sours, hindering operational capacity.

Technological disasters

These disasters create significant adverse on business operations. Malfunctions in technology like problems with network connections, server problems, data problems, or security breaches. Typically, they involve human error, meaning an "identifiable cause."

Disaster recovery testing helps businesses avoid potential problems that can result in a future loss of data leading to legal and financial complications. Research shows that 93% of companies that experience a disaster lasting for ten days or longer file for bankruptcy within a year.

Natural disasters

Earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and tornados are natural disasters affecting business operations. These catastrophes break supply chains, cause massive damage to infrastructure, and prevent employees from coming to work.

How disasters affect your business

Depending on the type of disaster and the circumstances around the event, your business could experience significant disruption to operations and business continuity. Every business is different, and what might be a calamity for one might be a minor disturbance for others.

Let's unpack how human-error disasters could affect your company and its operations.

Hacks, data theft, and sabotage

Cybercrime continues to grow each year. Ransomware, malware, and phishing attacks are the most common cyber threats, and many companies fall victim to these campaigns. Even large organizations like SolarWinds and the Colonial Pipeline fell victim to hackers.

A data breach can cause loss or corruption of files and systems, resulting in severe business disruptions. Creating regular backups and ensuring adequate network security should feature in your disaster recovery plan.

IT network failures

Many companies rely on tech solutions for communication and collaboration between employees and customers. Network failures disrupt organizational functions like important meetings, resulting in the loss of customers and staff. Disaster recovery planning is a critical component of IT infrastructure.

Power blackouts

The power grid is susceptible to weather events like flooding, fires, and freezes. A loss of power to your building and systems results in your business operations coming to a grinding halt. Power blackouts cause prolonged downtime, affecting efficient and effective business operations. Your DR plan must account for the potential of unplanned blackouts and how they impact your business operations.

Loss of key staff

Losing a key staff member, like a manager or director, will affect your business operations. How will it affect your company's operations if they should die or experience a health event that keeps them out of the workplace indefinitely or for a prolonged period?

Disaster recovery testing accounts for all these disaster scenarios and how they affect your business continuity. DR planning gives your company a set of strategies ready for implementation when it encounters these problems in real-time.

Disaster planning is essential for all business models. DR planning is core to your business continuance and survival when disaster strikes, from retailers to corporates, small businesses, and tech companies.

What are the goals of disaster recovery testing?

The primary goal of disaster recovery testing is the evaluate the efficacy of your disaster recovery plan. It determines if the DRP meets your company's requirements for its "Recovery Point Objective" (RPO) and "Recovery Time Objective" (RTO).

Disaster recovery testing provides the organization with feedback, allowing them the amend and adjust their DR plan for unexpected outcomes. Its systems are dynamic in nature. When organizations add a new dimension to the system, requiring the testing of those new features added to the DR plan.

For example, the organization may upgrade servers and storage systems since its last disaster recovery plan review. Organizations are migrating to the cloud, and these changes need to reflect in the DR plan.

Designing your disaster recovery plan

Every business needs a disaster recovery plan. Testing the DRP uncovers its weaknesses, giving companies feedback they need to adjust it for improved results. However, there are a set of best practices to implement before starting the testing phase of the DR plan.

Phase 1 – Audit your resources

Before implementing disaster recovery testing, companies must thoroughly audit their systems and processes. Management must identify assets existing on the business network infrastructure.

Creating a complete inventory of IT resources and identifying its contents allows a business to start the consolidation process, streamlining future backup and recovery of these assets.

Phase 2 – Determine your priorities

During the auditing process, companies may realize that many of their data assets are redundant or not crucial to systems and operations. Transferring unnecessary data to backup servers consumes resources. So, isolating and eliminating this redundant data will save the organization on the expenses of backing up data.

Phase 3 – Create roles and responsibilities for your team

All employees must play a role in the disaster recovery plan. Automated disaster recovery planning and testing affect the technical elements of the system. However, companies need to test the efficacy of the employees responsible for monitoring and using these systems in a disaster scenario.

When employees know their responsibilities in a disaster scenario, they are effective at rapidly restoring systems and processes with minimal downtime to the organizations.

Phase 4 – Determine your disaster recovery goals

It's important to define how fast your organization recovers when setting your RPOs and RTOs. These tasks can involve prioritizing the data requiring immediate access in the event of a disaster, which is less important to business continuity.

Data not requiring immediate access may not need direct restorations and fewer backups. Vital data, such as compliance and financials, are assigned urgent RPOs and RTOs. Assess if your backup server needs to take over from the primary server in a disaster scenario and the processes involved.

Phase 5 – Execute a cloud solution for data storage

Ransomware attacks can lock you out of your data or destroy it. Cloud solutions can download and back up data daily or weekly, depending on its importance, volume, and sensitivity.

Cloud solutions do away with the need for outdated backup strategies involving disks or USB drives. Cloud solutions are easy to execute on auto-pilot, ensuring you have a copy of all existing data.

Cloud solutions also mitigate the risk of physical, on-site backup solutions that might experience damage from flooding, fire, or human error, minimizing business disruptions.

Reviewing your disaster recovery plan – Tabletop exercise and simulation

Stakeholders need to walk, step-by-step, through a disaster recovery testing plan. This strategy assists with determining if the team understands its responsibilities in the case of a catastrophe. By testing the DRP, companies can uncover any errors, missing steps, or inconsistencies in the DRP.

Simulating the disaster scenario allows businesses to see if their DR procedures, resources, and processes include recovery sites and backup systems allocated for business continuity. The simulation involves executing several disaster scenarios to check the efficacy of the DR plan.

Will the stakeholders involve in executing the DRP get it up and running in the shortest time possible for business continuance? This process determines if sufficient resources are available to unfold the plan effectively and efficiently.

Best practices for disaster recovery testing

Your budget is usually the biggest contributing factor to effective disaster recovery planning and testing. Companies can implement multi-node, clustered data systems to recover one service, a single server, or an entire data center, preventing them from going down completely.

The issue with your strategy boils down to what you can afford. Migrating services from server to server is easy, cheap, and effective for companies with a minimal budget. Migrating servers is far more costly, as is migrating entire data centers.

What you choose to implement in your DRP depends on what you can afford. It would help if you found the right balance between cost and efficacy for your business continuity plan. Choosing to allocate your budget to the right resources at the right times is where you can save on costs.

For instance, bringing up your accounting archives doesn't have the same importance as getting your CRM back up and running in the event of a disaster.

Create a schedule for disaster recovery testing

Disaster recovery plan testing requires an effective schedule. Many organizations discover a system isn't functioning after a disaster takes it down, and they can't restore their systems. The only way to isolate and fix these systems before they create huge problems for business continuance is to test them regularly.

Document the disaster recovery test

There is often resistance to testing disaster recovery plan strategies. However, testing is critical to discover ineffective processes that create gaps in your business continuance plan. The testing documents what goes wrong during the process, allowing you to document these inefficiencies and develop strategies to fix these problems before the next scheduled test.

Test your solution and your team

What are good reasons to do yearly disaster recovery testing? Testing your DRP lets, you uncover the inefficiencies in your systems and your people. Giving your department heads an example of a disaster scenario shows you the team's problem-solving abilities and how they work with the DRP to recover your systems effectively and efficiently.

Regularly review and update your plan

Updating and testing disaster recovery plans is essential for any organization to maintain effective business continuance in the event of a catastrophe. Even if you have an effective strategy, it still requires regular testing and updating to accommodate changes in your business systems.

It's up to management and stakeholders to review the DRP and systems regularly, testing them for inefficiencies. Stakeholders can implement policies and procedures to stop staff members from acting independently outside the DRP.

For the best results with your DRP, you need regular, effective testing, review, and adjustment. Get buy-in from departments and users, develop disaster recovery testing best practices, and ensure you have everything covered and reviewed.

Wrapping Up – Your disaster recovery checklist

A disaster recovery plan is essential to all businesses, regardless of size. If you're unprepared, your business could fold when facing a catastrophe. Identify your objectives and procedures to design a post-DRP testing analysis.

Follow this checklist to ensure you have everything you need to respond quickly and effectively in a disaster.

  • Determine the systems you want to stress test in your DRP.
  • Document the results and edit the DRP to overcome any inefficiencies or weaknesses.
  • Include relevant tech and processes tested in the DRP.
  • Ensure your test environment is adequate and ready. It shouldn't affect your production systems or conflict with other business continuance processes.
  • If testing takes time, schedule it in advance.
  • Review test results and reschedule if problems arise.
  • Keep meticulous records of the test, including start and end times, what worked and what you need to improve.
  • Update the DRP and business continuity plan based on what you learned from the test.

It's essential to work with the right partner to plan, test, and review your DRP. Find managed IT services in Albany and select the right provider that fits your company's business model and DRP. Hire them to consult your strategy and assist with implementing testing procedures to ensure your business continuance.

The right partner is crucial to the success of your DRP, its testing, and its review. A managed IT services partner promises you less downtime in the event of a disaster and rapid recovery for your systems and business, with minimal downtime.

You can rely on your internal IT team to handle your DRP, but you're likely stretching them thin on resources. An external outsourced IT team takes on this responsibility, leaving your IT team to handle the daily operations.