Disaster Recovery Plan Testing — Methods and Must-haves

January 18, 2018
Backup, Data Protection

Things don’t always go as planned. That can be a serious problem if we’re talking about your disaster recovery (DR) plan. Even the most strategically formulated DR plan can fail, and the time to find that out is not when a disaster occurs.

Disaster recovery (DR) plan testing enables you to identify potential issues or gaps in your DR plan so you can take immediate corrective action. If you outsource your DR plan or any components of it to a third-party provider, make sure that DR plan testing is included in the service you contract for and performance metrics are clearly stated in the accompanying service level agreement.

DR Plan Testing Methodologies

There are various DR plan testing methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Among them:

  • Walk-through - In this type of testing, your DR team goes through each step of the plan verbally in order to identify weaknesses or gaps. It’s the least disruptive of the various methodologies, but you don’t really get to see the various components of your DR plan in action.

  • Table-top/Simulation - This is a more in-depth test than a walkthrough, but typically doesn’t affect day-to-day business operations. It is scenario-based, focusing on specific types of disasters or business disruptions. It may involve role-playing and actual physical testing of alternate sites and equipment, as well as coordination with vendors and others.

  • Parallel – With a parallel test, recovery systems are built/set up and tested to see if they can perform actual business transactions to support key processes. Primary systems still carry the full production workload.

  • Full-interruption - In this test, actual production data and equipment are used to test your DR plan. This has the potential to disrupt business operations and can be time-consuming. However, it can also be extremely worthwhile by demonstrating any gaps or problems in your plan.

  • Sandbox – Many third-party companies that offer disaster recovery as service (DRaaS) solutions “sandbox” or partition virtual machines so testing can be performed without affecting production servers.

The complexity of your DR plan and whether or not you have outsourced any portion of it to a third-party provider will be factors in determining the most appropriate tests to employ. Whatever testing methodology you ultimately choose, make sure it covers all aspects of your DR plan. For example, testing just the effectiveness of your data backups but not the recovery of your data won’t give you a complete picture of how well your DR plan works.

DR Plan Testing Expectations

Set the right expectations for “testing success.” Even if a test of your DR plan fails it can be considered a successful test. After all, its purpose is to identify weaknesses or missing element during testing rather than in an actual disaster.

DR Plan Testing Frequency

Organizations have lots of moving parts. Infrastructure, business processes, and personnel often change. Those changes must be integrated into the DR plan. Doing so, however, creates opportunities for something to fail or a mistake to occur. Testing at pre-determined intervals can help ensure that plan changes are accounted for and that they don’t affect how a DR plan works when executed.

Again, if you’re working with a third-party provider, make sure that DR plan testing is not a one-time thing. With US Signal’s DRaaS solution, for example, two coordinated recovery testing sessions are included each year.

US Signal also incorporates DR plan testing into its “DR playbook,” which is a key element in its DRaaS solution. The playbook outlines all recovery objectives, system and network configurations and detailed failover and failback instructions. During the onboarding and implementation process, the initial draft is created. After the first successful recovery test, the document is finalized. Then with each recurring test, the playbook is reviewed and updated so that it is always accurate.

DR Plan Testing Tips

To maximize the effectiveness of your DR plan testing, follow these suggestions:

  • Prepare a draft test plan with detailed information about the test, including its goals and objectives, success factors, test procedures and post-test analyses. Make sure the plan includes all technology components, such as hardware, application, database, utilities and anything else required to validate all backup and recovery processes. Review the plan with all appropriate parties to make sure it’s as comprehensive as possible before finalizing it.

  • Secure management approval, support and funding for the test.

  • Schedule time for the environment that will be tested and verify that it’s ready when it’s testing time. Make sure your DR plan test doesn’t conflict with other major initiatives such as network upgrades or software upgrades. Send out notifications about the testing date so everyone knows what to expect.

  • Document what happens during the test, including what worked and what didn’t work, as well as any other observations. Record times as steps are completed. If you make any changes to the test on the fly, make sure to document them. This will all be important for your final testing analyses and lessons learned.

DR Plan Testing Follow-up

After each DR plan test, you should document successes, failures, and other information to improve the DR plan so your staff is ready for the next test — or an actual disaster. A DR plan is only as good as the last test, and it’s the lessons learned during testing that enable recovery success in an actual disaster scenario.

To ensure your organization’s disaster preparedness, you must feel confident your DR plan will work when needed it. The only way to achieve that is to put it to the test. If you’re interested in learning how US Signal can assist you with your DR planning and testing, call 866.2. SIGNAL or email [email protected]

Get Started with a DR Plan Checklist

Use US Signal's DR Plan Checklist before or after testing. It can help you identify areas of weakness in your current DR strategy, and prepare you for developing a more comprehensive, resilient plan.

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Additional Disaster Recovery Resources

To learn more about disaster recovery and managed DR services, check out these articles below from our blog or visit our resource center for whitepapers, e-books and more!