Disaster Recovery Plan (DR) Testing — Methods and Must-haves

January 18, 2018
Backup, Data Protection

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Updated: February 21, 2024

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 to a third-party provider, ensure that DR plan testing is included in the service you contract for and that performance metrics are clearly stated in the accompanying service level agreement.

What Is Disaster Recovery Testing?

A disaster recovery test closely examines every step in a disaster recovery plan. Testing helps evaluate whether a business can recover data and restore critical operations in case of a breach or interruption of services. DR testing aims to determine whether the plan will work and meet the company's requirements should there be any challenges.

IT systems are fluid, so upgrades and new products require regular testing. Disaster recovery testing provides businesses with the ability to protect sensitive data in the ever-changing technological space.

Why Is It Important to Develop a Disaster Recovery Testing Process?

Having a disaster recovery plan is the first step to mitigating the effects of an unexpected event. The testing phase is perhaps even more important. Your disaster recovery efforts are redundant if they prove ineffective. As technology is always evolving, so must the steps put in place to protect valuable data. Testing allows you to develop and reinforce the steps you plan to take in the event of a disaster.

Some of the many reasons to create a disaster recovery testing process include:

  • Checking effectiveness: Running your disaster recovery plan through a series of risk scenarios helps to ascertain whether it will remain effective in various circumstances. If it has weaknesses, you can address them before you use your DR plan.
  • Preparing your team: Going through your disaster recovery plan gives your team a better understanding of their roles in the event of an unforeseen circumstance.
  • Taking preventive measures: A disaster recovery plan is the ultimate preventive measure. Your IT team will be able to catch threats before they can affect your company.

What Are the Components of a Data Recovery Plan Test?

Disaster recovery plan testing must be exhaustive to fully gauge the effectiveness of your DR plan. Some of the critical components of a disaster recovery plan test are:

  • Impact: It's essential to know the impact your disaster recovery plan testing will have on your production environment. Some tests can cause downtime, so incorporate all your data and software updates into your simulation to ensure the validity of the test.
  • Timing: A long period between tests increases the risk that changes in data, hardware or software could result in DR plan challenges. Measuring how long complete recovery takes is vital to make the appropriate arrangements to manage any downtime.
  • Changes: Always conduct tests after any major infrastructural changes, as these differences necessitate updates to your DR plan. Ensure you test that backup and restore processes are unaffected by technological changes.
  • People: DR tests can limit or remove the chance of human error in the disaster recovery process. Create a team of people, only some of whom are involved with a particular application. Including a variety of people can help establish the validity of your DR plan.
  • Objectives: Before testing, have a clear objective, and align this goal with your post-testing analysis so you have actionable data to make any changes to your DR plan.

DR Plan Testing Methodologies

There are various types of disaster recovery methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Among them: walk-through, table-top/simulation, parallel, full-interruption, and sandbox.

There are various types of disaster recovery testing methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Among them:

  • Walk-through: Your DR team verbally analyzes every step of the plan to identify gaps or weak points. 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: While this type of testing is more detailed than a walk-through, it doesn't affect daily business operations. This scenario-focused option simulates certain disruptions or disasters. It can include actual physical testing and role-playing.
  • Parallel: A parallel test involves building/ setting up recovery systems to be tested. The test establishes whether the systems can perform actual business transactions to support key processes.
  • Full-interruption: In this test, actual production data and equipment are used in testing your DR plan. This has the potential to disrupt business operations and can be time-consuming. However, demonstrating any gaps or problems in your plan can also be extremely worthwhile.
  • Sandbox: Often, third-party companies offering Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) will “sandbox” or partition virtual machines. This technique allows testing 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 choose, ensure 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.

Individuals and Businesses Involved in Creating a Data Recovery Plan Test

Your managed IT service professionals should provide you with disaster recovery plan testing. A test engineer will test the application and measure its ability to recover from crashes, disasters and cybercrime. Individuals from your business must also take part — those who have specific roles in your data recovery plan and those who don't.

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

US Signal incorporates DR Plan testing into its

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 don’t affect how a DR plan works when executed.

Again, if you’re working with a third-party provider, ensure DR plan testing is not a one-time thing. For example, US Signal’s DRaaS solution annually includes two coordinated recovery testing sessions.

US Signal also incorporates DR plan testing into its “DR playbook,” a critical element of 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 to be consistently accurate.

How Businesses Evaluate the Outcomes of a Disaster Recovery Plan Test

The most critical metrics to track to measure DR plans include:

  • Recovery time objectives (RTO): This is the amount of time a business can handle during or after a disaster before restoring its services. If the recovery time is too long, the company will experience unsupportable consequences due to downtime.
  • Recovery point objectives (RPO): RPO refers to the amount of time that can pass during a disaster before the quality of lost data during that time exceeds the maximum allowable amount.
  • Number of plans: This is the number of DR plans that cover each critical operational process within the business.
  • Update time: This metric denotes the amount of time since each DR plan was updated.
  • Threats to business processes: Determine the number of business processes threatened by a disaster.
  • Recovery time: This is the time it takes to recover a business process.
  • Time difference: The difference between your target and actual recovery times gives you this metric.

These metrics will determine the success of your DR plan and indicate any flaws after a test is completed. This information is vital to ensure that in the event of a disaster, your team has made the relevant changes in time.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are an excellent measure of your DR plan's effectiveness, especially if you need to maximize your available resources. Depending on your business needs, you can create KPIs to measure the most critical aspects of your disaster recovery, like how your recovery plan covers many business functions.

Discuss your critical disaster recovery objectives with your managed IT service provider. You can create KPIs within your budget and use them throughout your testing process, tweaking them to align with industry and internal business changes.

The Importance of Recovery Time

The time it takes to recover from a disaster is perhaps the most critical metric to measure in your testing. Measuring the actual time it takes to recover a business process is invaluable to creating and maintaining an actionable disaster recovery plan. Set a target time and measure the difference between your recovery time and your target — this is also known as a gap analysis.

Once you've identified the gaps in your DR plans, you can set KPIs for your planning process to try and narrow the gaps.

DR Plan Testing Tips

Review the plan with all appropriate parties to ensure it's as comprehensive as possible before finalizing it.

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. Ensure 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 ensure 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. Ensure your DR plan test doesn’t conflict with other major initiatives such as network or software upgrades. Send notifications about the testing date so everyone knows what to expect.

Document what happens during the test, including what worked and what didn’t, and 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 the lessons learned during testing enable recovery success in a real disaster scenario.

    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.

    Stay Safe With US Signal

    To ensure your organization’s disaster preparedness, you must feel confident your DR plan will work when needed. The only way to achieve that is to put it to the test. US Signal offers you 24/7 support, 365 days a year, to keep your data safe and facilitate your disaster recovery processes for the best possible results.

    If you’re interested in learning how US Signal can assist you with your DR planning and testing, feel free to contact us for more information on how we can transform your disaster recovery plan.

    stay prepared with US Signal

    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!