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3 Essential Steps for Disaster Recovery Testing

A Disaster Recovery (DR) program can’t just look good on paper. It has to get the job done when a natural disaster or cyberattack takes down your data center.

But because the odds of a disaster striking your data center are minimal, once a DR program is in place, it’s easy to become complacent. That’s when the potential for your organization to experience significant problems during an outage becomes real.

DR testing is the key to keeping IT systems working in a crisis and averting lasting damage to your company, customers, and reputation. The rise of cloud-based disaster recovery makes testing easier than ever, but it still feels like a chore IT departments prefer to avoid or put off.

Avoidance and procrastination are not good options — especially in an age of high-profile cyberattacks. DR programs have to be tested to work out the kinks and discover unanticipated problems.

Taking these three steps will help your company get serious about disaster recovery testing:

Step 1. Create a culture of testing

Start with the assumption that your disaster recovery program will fail during an unforeseen failure. From a position of vulnerability, you’ll be able to reinforce the necessity of identifying weaknesses in your plan.

Disaster recovery testing will assess whether your on-paper DR program is robust enough to survive when trouble strikes. The key, then, is to make sure DR testing is a priority from Day One. It cannot be an afterthought.

Every component of your DR program needs to have testing baked into it. Developing a culture of testing keeps your people in a pass/fail mindset and encourages them to think in terms of iterations. The plan will be imperfect at first, but each round of testing chips away at the imperfections and improves overall readiness.

Step 2. Get stakeholder buy-in

DR testing can be a significant logistical challenge. With today’s technology and a good DR design, DR testing can be accomplished in most cases without impacting daily business activities; however, it still requires a team of people dedicated to perform and validate every step of the DR procedure. Nobody wants or enjoys these kinds of inconveniences. They have to be sold on the value of effective DR testing.

That means you’ll need to reach out to key executives, department heads, and any upstream vendors that need to be involved, making sure everyone knows exactly what’s going on and why DR testing is so vital to the health of your organization. If any facets of the business under their control face risk of being disrupted, they need to know in advance so they can tell their people what’s going on and prepare accordingly. Care should be taken to ensure production transactions are not impacted by the testing.

Testing also creates an opportunity to build goodwill and trust among company leaders. Each one will know the most important parts of the business that must survive in a crisis so they can provide vital feedback on your DR program. And testing can help them find better ways to adapt in an emergency.

Step 3. Understand compliance

The components of your DR program must align with industry regulations, which often include requirements for disaster recovery testing. If you neglect to test properly, you could be exposing your company to fines and other penalties.

Also, during DR testing, you will identify problems that need to be addressed. It’s crucial to ensure that any amendments you make to your DR plan remain compliant.

Reaching out to stakeholders who understand compliance for each functional area in the business is vital. If you confer with your company’s compliance experts when developing your DR testing regimen, you’ll stand a much better chance of staying compliant in a real emergency.

Taking a holistic approach to DR testing

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Making testing a priority, getting key stakeholders involved, and assuring your company stays in compliance as your program evolves all form the foundation for effective disaster recovery. Whether you keep your DR program in-house or contract with a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) provider, you need to ensure your program addresses real-world threats as they evolve and change, and your plan will work as expected when you need it.