How to test your disaster recovery plan

Even the strongest, most advanced IT systems can fall prey to disasters. Whether the disaster is a whirlwind of malware or actual an actual hurricane, what’s important for your organization is thorough preparedness and a tried-and-tested recovery plan.

The consequences of a non-tested disaster recovery plan (or having no plan at all) can be catastrophic. So much so that many businesses are potentially one pipe burst or data breach away from bankruptcy.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what a disaster recovery test is, the key objectives for a DR test, and why regular disaster recovery testing is crucial to your business.


What is a disaster recovery test?

A disaster recovery test (also known as a DR or DRP test) examines each step in a disaster recovery plan outlined by an organization or their managed service provider.

Evaluating the plan helps gauge how effective an organization’s disaster recovery protocols are at recovering data, restoring critical business applications, and continuing operations after an interruption.

If you’d like more information on the foundations of a good disaster recovery plan, check out our blog post on DR planning for small businesses.


Why should you test your disaster recovery plan?

It’s essential to test your disaster recovery plan (DRP) to uncover any weaknesses. By conducting routine disaster recovery testing or drills, you can identify issues and develop solutions to re-establish critical operations when a real disaster strikes.

You should also review, re-assess, and restructure your DRP as needed—typically, a quarterly or an annual review is standard practice. If you modify your strategy or structure during these reviews, you should run another disaster recovery drill right away to work out any kinks.

To ensure your disaster recovery plan is effective during a real disaster, your tests should accomplish some key objectives.

There are six key objectives of any DRP test:

  1. Run-through your disaster recovery processes and procedures

  2. Familiarize your workers with processes and documentation

  3. Measure the efficacy of your recovery documentation

  4. Gauge the efficacy of your recovery site

  5. Establish if the recovery objectives are achievable

  6. Identify any necessary improvements to the strategy or recovery processes

You can call your disaster recovery drill a success if your testing enables you to accomplish each of these objectives.


6 ways to test your disaster recovery plan

Disaster recovery planning and testing are routine processes that IT specialists and managed service providers alike have honed for years. Over time, the most useful tests have been shared broadly within the IT industry and distilled into six methods or phases.

Ideally, your disaster recovery team would implement each of the following methods in phases to complete a well-rounded test that results in bullet-proof disaster recovery. However, not every IT team has the resources to accomplish such a comprehensive examination. If your IT team is stretched thin, we recommend that you outsource whatever you can to a managed service provider so you don’t have to sacrifice business continuity.

Generally, there are six phases in the DR testing process, and they can vary depending on your infrastructure (e.g., cold site vs. hot site environments).

  1. Plan Review or Paper Test. Review the plan with limited participants (including your MSP) who read and annotate the plan as necessary.

  2. DRP Walkthrough Test. Once verified, schedule walkthroughs with appropriate personnel or teams to identify any missing information or processes.

  3. Tabletop Test. During a DR tabletop test, you’ll gather the key players who will execute your disaster recovery plan (including everyone needed for application testing and data validation). You’ll identify responsibilities and ensure everyone can carry out their tasks. In this phase, it’s essential to develop clearly defined procedures and checklists for validation testing.

  4. Mock Test or Simulation. Before you conduct an actual DR test, you’ll test portions of your infrastructure to ensure the recovery process works. For instance, test your backups or replicate virtual machines at your recovery site to gauge if your infrastructure can adequately support your servers.

  5. Parallel Test. Recovery systems are set up and tested to see if they can perform actual business transactions to support critical processes. Your primary systems will still carry your full production workload. Perform a parallel test during off-hours to avoid any production mishaps.

  6. Full Failover or Cutover Test. The full failover DR test is the most thorough or strenuous DR testing form because you’re putting your systems through the complete circuit of disaster recovery procedures. You’ll set up and test your recovery systems to assume your full production workload while disconnecting your primary systems. When you can successfully cutover to your DR site, process and perform business operations from the DR site, and then cut back again, your business should be able to recover from most disasters smoothly.


Vigilant’s professional disaster recovery services

Disaster recovery planning and testing need to be performed by professionals with the correct knowledge and expertise. According to the Risk Management Framework (RMF) guidelines, a 3rd party  review is a cost effective way of ensuring your plan is adequate, and will work. At Vigilant, we have identified a few key technologies that are key indicators of a successful recovery from total to minor failures that also protect you against malicious attacks! If your organization doesn’t have enough resources on your IT team to plan, manage, and test your disaster recovery and business continuity plans, a managed service provider like Vigilant can help.

Be safe, be effective, be Vigilant! 

Our IT and cybersecurity specialists are experts in leading disaster recovery methods, and we can create, test, and execute customized plans for your business. To learn more about how we can help, get a free infrastructure assessment today.

Topics: cyber security, Business continuity, Disaster recovery