How To DR Test Successfully

On a scale of 1-10, how prepared is your company for an insider sabotage attack, ransomware-virus, or a natural calamity? Research has shown that 94% of companies that suffered from a catastrophic data loss do not survive, with almost half never reopening after an incident. A disaster recovery (DR) plan can help your organization prepare for any IT-related disaster before it happens. 

So how do you test the strength of your DR plan? You will need to analyze your IT requirements to figure out what to prioritize, set up a testing environment, choose a DR test type, and document everything that follows to see the gaps in your DR plan. We’ll take a closer look at these steps later on. 

What Is A Disaster Recovery (DR) Test?

A disaster recovery test examines each step in your disaster recovery plan. A DR plan is often confused with business continuity planning (BCP), which is focused on ensuring that an organization’s products and services are available to consumers after a disaster. On the other hand, a DR plan is more focused on recovering your IT system so you can keep your data, continue operations, and restore critical business applications after an interruption. 

For many organizations, DR planning and testing is largely neglected because it can be expensive and difficult. Even if you did have an existing DR plan, you would need to test it out to see if you can actually perform it as needed when a natural or man-made disaster strikes.

Typically, a DR test focuses on communications, data recovery, and application recovery but this depends on what the organization’s recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) are. As much as possible, a disaster recovery test should be conducted throughout the year, incorporated in all staff training and planned maintenance schedules. This makes it easier to analyze what works and what didn’t so you can easily revise your DR plan’s design. 

How To Conduct An Effective DR Test 

Once you’ve decided to check if your disaster recovery plan will work, here are three major steps for conducting an effective DR test: 

Phase 1: Set up your testing environment. 

At this stage, you will have to dedicate time and resources for research and planning. Ask questions like:

  • How IT-reliant is your company? What infrastructure, servers, endpoints, or communications are most crucial to your operations?
  • Who are your vendors and support resources? Do you have their contact details? 
  • What are your goals, objectives, and procedures? For example, are you trying to minimize downtime? What constitutes a successful recovery? 
  • Are there any risks for testing? What issues may arise if you perform a test? 
  • How will you transition back to a normal production network once testing is complete? 

Once you have outlined exactly what you need to test and how, put together your testing team and schedule a DR test well in advance. As a disaster recovery test can take hours, be sure it won’t conflict with your production systems or any other activities. 

Phase 2: Select your DR test type. 

Once your testing environment is ready, you should choose what disaster recovery test type to perform. Ideally, you should try to proceed through each test to build-up the DR plan you have.

Paper TestThe paper test is a plan review where select members of the DR team read, examine and annotate the DR plan in detail to identify any inconsistencies or missing elements. They also have to go through all related recovery plan documents such as policies, checklists, benchmarks, and timelines to see if these are attainable and complete. 
Walk Through TestA walk through test is a tabletop exercise where a group of stakeholders walks through each step of the DR plant to pinpoint any issues that need to be addressed. This allows you to see if everyone knows what to do during an emergency and if there are any inconsistencies, errors, or missing information that need to be modified. 
Simulation Test In IT, a simulation test is like a fire drill where a disaster is simulated to see if the existing plans will continue to work during various real-world scenarios. Usually, this is performed on small portions of the infrastructure to see if the technologies can be restarted in a timely manner with the number of staff you have. 
Parallel Test The parallel test checks to see if your failure recovery system can perform real transactions while supporting all key processes and applications while the primary system continues to run the system. It is a test type usually performed off-hours to avoid any impact on production. 
Cutover TestA cutover test is also called a full failover test because you will disconnect your primary system to see if your failure recovery system can smoothly assume the full production workload. If everything works well during this test, your organization should be able to weather through most disasters.

Phase 3: Analyze and report your findings. 

After finishing your testing, you can assess the outcome and discuss key takeaways from the exercise. This would allow you to figure out how to avoid situations in case of a real-life scenario and make improvements for your disaster plan. Be sure that you revert all your systems back to production mode and check to see if you continued implementing security or regulatory compliance obligations. Update your disaster recovery plan as needed and retest if you are able to. 

Tips and Best Practices for DR Testing 

It can be overwhelming to test your DR plan because of how many resources are involved. You will need to spend time and energy testing out a plan which could risk your current operations. 

For a well-coordinated DR test, here a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Structure DR testing as you would software development and associated tests. Keep everything methodical and organized to make sure no panic or chaos ensues. 
  • Communicate the roles and responsibilities to each participant ahead of the testing. It’s also a good idea to assign a backup person for each role in the exercise in case the designated individuals suddenly won’t be able to make it. 
  • Keep your team informed of the recovery processes and progress status. A manager should be designated to lead everyone through the test. You should also assign a timekeeper to record start and end times, while a scribe takes notes for the report after. 
  • Test regularly and thoroughly. A larger business may need to test quarterly, while smaller businesses should undergo a full DR test at least once a year. 

Let Abacus Guide You Through Disaster Recovery

While big organizations may have enough expertise to perform a disaster recovery test on their own, you may need more assistance if you’re a smaller company. Abacus Managed IT Services can help you assess your IT vulnerabilities, patch up your security, and plan ahead for disasters. Call or email us for inquiries today. 

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The Abacus Blog Team
At Abacus IT, our blog is authored by a team of IT experts with a wealth of experience in various facets of technology. Our primary blog author is a seasoned IT professional with over 20 years of experience in the industry. With a deep understanding of cybersecurity, cloud solutions, network infrastructure, and IT management, our author provides valuable insights and actionable tips to help you optimize your IT operations.

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