Best practices for testing your disaster recovery plan

Best practices for testing your disaster recovery plan

Maintaining a robust disaster recovery plan (DRP) is essential for ensuring operational continuity and minimizing downtime should a crisis affect your business. However, simply having your DRP on paper is not enough. You must regularly test it to ensure its effectiveness and provide an opportunity for your employees to practice their roles and responses during a disaster.

In this article, we'll explore the best practices for testing your DRP to ensure that, when the time comes, your plan will actually work, and you can avoid the grave consequences of prolonged downtime.

What is a disaster recovery plan?

A DRP outlines your organization’s response to an unforeseen event that severely hinders or even halts your business operations. This disaster might be a natural one, such as a fire or flood, a system failure such as a faulty server, or a human-caused disaster, which includes cyberattacks and sabotage.

The DRP explains what each stakeholder in the company must do to mitigate the damage caused by this disaster and preserve key assets, which always include vital business data. It also details how to restore systems to full operation after the disaster.

If well planned and frequently rehearsed, your DRP can prevent weeks or even months of lost productivity and revenue, which your organization might not survive.

Read also: Disaster response and recovery: How prepared are you?

Best practices for conducting DRP testing

Your objectives, tools, and methods may vary based on your industry and circumstances, but there are principles that all DRP testing should follow:

Establish clear objectives

Before your team conducts any testing, you must set clear objectives for the exercise. Determine what you want to achieve from the testing process, whether it's validating recovery time objectives (RTOs) or auditing the effectiveness of specific procedures. By defining clear goals, you can determine which testing procedures and measurement tools are most appropriate to be used.

Test with multiple methods

There are various methods for testing DRPs, each serving a different purpose. Some common test types are:

  • Tabletop exercises – These include simulated tests, which entail talking out roles and responses with your employees and finding opportunities to improve the DRP.
  • Functional testing – This testing involves examining the individual components of your DRP to make sure each piece works as it should.
  • Full-scale testing – Akin to a full dress rehearsal, full-scale testing utilizes all recovery tools in concert and with each employee playing their part, to guarantee a smooth DRP process from start to finish.

Choose the testing method or combination of methods that best aligns with your objectives and resources.

Conduct regularly scheduled testing

Consistent testing is key to maintaining the effectiveness of your DRP over time, so aim to conduct a test at least once a year. Another good time to test your DRP is after you make big changes, either to your IT infrastructure or operations. Regular testing allows you to stay sharp and address any weaknesses or gaps in the plan proactively, ensuring that it remains up to date and aligns with your organization’s evolving needs.

Document test procedures

Documenting your test procedures is essential for ensuring consistency and repeatability in the testing process. Create detailed test plan documents that outline the objectives, scope, methodology, and timeline for each testing exercise. Also, include step-by-step instructions for executing the test, recording results, and documenting observations. This not only helps improve your future testing but also makes it easier to analyze the data you collect.

Iterate and improve

After carefully analyzing the data from your tests and sharing the results with key stakeholders, use the feedback and insights gained from testing to update and enhance your DRP regularly. Incorporate your learnings from previous testing exercises, as well as any major developments in the IT landscape or regulatory requirements, into the plan. This ensures that your most recent DRP addresses your needs better than its previous version.

Leverage experts’ skills and knowledge

One of the best things you can do, especially if you don’t maintain an internal team with DRP experience, is to bring in outside consultants such as XBASE Technologies to lend their industry-specific knowledge and expertise to your planning.

These consultants can provide invaluable insights into the specific risks and vulnerabilities your business faces, helping you tailor your DRP to address them effectively. They can also offer guidance on best practices, compliance requirements, and emerging technologies that can enhance your resilience against potential disruptions.

Moreover, by tapping into their experience working with diverse clients and scenarios, these experts can help you anticipate and mitigate potential challenges that may not be immediately apparent. With their assistance, you can ensure that your DRP is comprehensive, actionable, and aligned with your business goals, ultimately bolstering your organization's ability to withstand and recover from unexpected events.

If your organization is operating in the Toronto area, don’t hesitate to contact XBASE Technologies for all your DRP needs. Our team of IT specialists will leverage their decades of experience to optimize your DRP and protect your business from costly, prolonged downtime.