Disaster Recovery Testing
In today’s information age, enterprises are heavily dependent on IT systems to do their work. Any sudden outage in IT systems can result in substantial financial and reputation losses to the affected party. A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a road map that lists needed tools, procedures, and policies that an organization should implement if a sudden failure occurs to its vital IT infrastructure -following a natural disaster (e.g., flood, earthquake, fire) or caused by unintentional human error (e.g., failed upgrade) or as a result of a cyber-attack- to resume its normal work operations.
Most organizations relax after setting up a disaster recovery plan. Maybe they feel comfortable and protected after having a complete plan for recovering from unplanned incidents. Regrettably, many organizations fail to test the recovery procedures to see if they work as expected. The purpose of disaster recovery testing is to find gaps –or flaws- in a disaster recovery plan and work to mitigate them before they impact the business’ ability to recover functionality when an unexpected incident occurs.
Some organizations outsource their disaster recovery plan to a third-party provider. If that is the case, it is important to ensure that a DR testing plan is included as a part of the service agreement.
This article will introduce the term “Disaster Recovery Test", which mention their types and examine some best practices to conduct DR testing effectively.
Disaster Recovery Testing Methodologies
We can differentiate between five types of disaster recovery tests:
- Plan review: This is the most basic test, where the disaster recovery plan is reviewed thoroughly for any missing parts.
- Walkthrough test: the disaster recovery (DR) team performs a walkthrough of all disaster recovery steps and procedures as if a real disaster has happened. They try to discover any gaps or blind spots in the plan and work to fix them.
- Simulation: the disaster recovery plan is executed in a simulated environment without stopping real business operations. This helps the disaster recovery team check if all recovery plan components are working as expected.
- Full disaster recovery simulation test: the DR team tries to simulate a complete failure in the main production site and tries to perform a full recovery from offsite storage.
Different parameters determine the best testing methodology. For instance, the type of business, the backup system, the disaster recovery plan's complexity, and whether the DR testing plan is outsourced to a third-party will determine which testing methodology to employ. However, always remember to select the methodology that covers all your business operations. For example, it is useless to test if there is a backup data procedure in place without testing if the backup mechanism is working properly in the case of failure.
Disaster Recovery Testing Best Practices
To ensure your DR testing is effective, follow these tips:
- The most important tip is to get your senior management approval to conduct –and fund- the tests. The responsible person should describe the importance of DR testing and its impact on the business process if no testing is done, and a sudden disaster occurs.
- Prepare your test plan before executing it. You should not override any element such as the test's objectives, expected outcome, test procedures, and post-test analysis. Your test should be inclusive; hence, it contains all hardware and software components that your IT systems use.
- Select a DR tool that facilitates testing. For example, modern DR tools can be easily tested by launching virtual machines and testing the recovery process automatically. This helps the DR team frequently test their DR plan.
- Define testing scope: For example, are you going to simulate your production environment using a cloud-based environment? Are you going to test the response of non-IT systems (such as testing your fire alarm system, electricity generator, or emergency doors)?
- Testing interval: Define the frequency to test your DR plan. This heavily depends on how frequently your IT infrastructure changes, your available budget, and resources in addition to customer needs and compliance requirements.
- Notify all affected parties about your DR testing time frame. Ensure your testing schedule does not conflict with other regular tasks such as network auditing and software or hardware upgrades.
After finishing the test, make sure to conduct a post-test analysis, so you can review what has worked during the test and what elements have failed to work. Document everything and work closely to close any flaws or defects that appear during the test.
Testing your disaster recovery is important to ensure faster recovery from unexpected incidents. DR testing must be included in any disaster recovery plan. Keep in mind IT infrastructure is not static. Organizations continually add new devices, servers, and other networking equipment, and they also install and upgrade applications and are increasingly deploying more applications to the cloud. All these new elements will require organizations to update their disaster recovery plan and update the associated disaster recovery testing plan.