Testing Your Disaster Recovery Plan

Disaster Recovery | Zmanda

Find out why it’s important to have a robust Disaster Recovery Plan for your business.

Nothing is invented and perfected at the same time. ~John Ray

Immortal or mortal, the probability of achieving a hundred percent efficiency in anything we do is close to none. Our Disaster Recovery (DR) plans are in no way divergent. However, inefficiency or failure aren’t indications of downfall but rather the stepping stones to achieving superior results. 

Testing Disaster Recovery Plan | Zmanda

Our article on Disaster Recovery is essential in understanding disaster recovery’s hand in data backup and reducing losses incurred due to natural or technical disasters. In precis, disaster recovery is an act of using one’s foresight to mitigate risks that may occur in the foreseeable future. A Disaster Recovery Plan is a fruitful outcome of accounting for disaster recovery through words and concrete steps. Essentially, it is a document encompassing various precepts and guidelines that an organization follows under sundry disasters. Thus, understanding minute details and identifying equivocal scenarios is key to developing a better Disaster Recovery strategy and an effective DR plan.

Why Is Testing the DR Plan Important?

Factors resulting in downtime | Disasters | Zmanda
Factors that result in downtime of systems and untoward disasters.

As John Ray had rightly said, the probability of achieving a foolproof DR plan at the very first attempt is humanly impossible. It may be a direct consequence of failing to consider all aspects of the software or network setup, the implications of the underlying hardware, up-gradation of the servers, software or hardware, and other such reasons. Therefore, for the DR plan to compete with its environment and ensure to meet the RPO and RTOs, it is essential to conduct iterative testing of the DR plan at regular intervals. 

Understanding Your DR Plan

A DR plan consists of the possible disaster scenarios and the strategies developed to fortify their equipment and data from the same. However, an organization can excel in its plan of action only when they have digested the fact that its environment is dynamic and consistency is a mirage. The DR plan must be iteratively studied and improvised to tackle the inevitable inconsistency. 

To achieve this, the DR team must be able to do the following:

  • Existing Shortcomings: Identifying the shortcomings of their plan, similar to debugging a program code and finding appropriate fixes.
  • Developing Environment: Understanding the changes imposed on the current strategies due to the developing environment. The DR team must be aware of the evolution of technology and the challenges that tag along with the same.
  • New Risks: The DR team must consider these risks to assemble a foolproof plan. In a dynamic environment, the addition of challenges is unavoidable. The DR team must thus keep a keen lookout to ensure that the crevices are kept closed and tightly sealed from malicious intervention.

DR Testing With Reduced Staffing

Zmanda | Efficient Team | Disaster Recovery plan
A small yet efficient and talented team.

As the idiom rightly conveys, too many cooks spoil the broth, and automation of disaster recovery and management has led to the decline in the need for human intervention. The high level of scrutiny and care devoted to recruiting a small but equipped group of experts to be a part of the DR testing team compensates for the reduction in staff. Apart from the evident reason of being cost-effective, the probability of complications and miscommunications decreases as a tight-knit group with like-minded interests leads to effective DR testing. 

DR Plan Testing – Create, Simulate & Emulate, Consolidate

Every product requires iterative testing, prototype testing, beta testing, etc., to identify the success and failures of updates and features introduced during each iteration or in the maintenance stage.

Likewise, extracting the shortcomings of a DR plan is majorly dependent on the ability of the DR team to match the testing environment with the actual environment to monitor and simulate the working of the DR plan. 

The testing of the DR Plan involves the following stages:

Steps of Disaster Recovery Plan | Zmanda
Steps of the DR Plan

Stage 1: Create

The testing of the DR plan is as successful as the tests deployed to scrutinize its behavior. The tests must cover every test case and pay attention to corner cases requiring a keen eye. Further, to analyze the results of these tests and draw out comprehensive inferences, the tests must refrain from being equivocal. 

How Do We Do So?

  • Identify the purpose of the test. The tests must be cohesive with less coupling to ensure that each feature of the DR plan is subject to testing. 
  • Identify and emphasize the parameters or objectives used to measure the success or failure of a test.
  • Identify the members’ roles and write a comprehensive description of the working environment to ensure the proper deployment of the test.

Remember, meticulous documentation is the key to opening doors to the beyond! The beyond, a mitigated world with a fortified armor ready for anything that comes it’s way!

Given below are examples of deployable tests:

  • Paper test: The paper test involves the combined efforts of all the members of the DR team. The plan is read word by word, uncovering missed pointers and identifying equivocal language (also referred to as tabletop exercises).
  • Parallel test: Parallel tests involves the simultaneous working of two kinds of systems. The recovery systems are tested against the various identified scenarios to monitor their ability to handle transactions and mimic the working of the primary system. Meanwhile, the primary systems continuously work at optimal capacity with zero hindrance.
  • Cutover test: In contrast to parallel tests, the cutover test primarily focuses on the recovery system that takes over the entire workload in the event of an untoward scenario. Hence, this necessitates for the primary system to remain inactive to carry out a proper analysis of the failover recovery system.

Stage 2: Simulate & Emulate

Reiterating our previously mentioned pointer, the analysis of a DR plan is only as good as the simulation environment that strives to test the plan’s potential. DR simulation is another form of DR testing and invariably the most important one. 

Disaster Recovery plan | Zmanda

The simulation helps in spotlighting the below insights:

  • Firstly, the system’s ability to satisfy its Recovery Point Objectives and Recovery Time Objectives are measured and quantified. Quantifying this data helps make informed decisions. 
  • The robustness of the recovery system is understood.
  • Data integrity, loss, and security are measured. Thus, the tolerance level of the system is identified.
  • The process can uproot the plan’s shortcomings and set to motion the identification of appropriate tests to mitigate the same.

The above insights are only to name a few. 

On the successful simulation of the environment, emulate the DR plan to strive and achieve ideal objectives. Hence, time and effort must unquestionably be invested into simulation and emulation to ensure that losses incurred in the future are drastically cut down. 

Stage 3: Consolidate

Data obtained from the testing phase will have to be meticulously studied to consolidate the DR plan. Processing the results is not an easy task. DR team members and technical enthusiasts should work together to obtain logical inferences from the test data acquired and tweak the existing plan to meet the metrics identified. 

Thus, an iterative process of creating, simulating & emulating, and consolidating is set into motion, a cycle that mimics every other software development process. 

Checklist to the Rescue!

I watch a lot of astronaut movies…Mostly Star Wars. And even Han and Chewie use a checklist. ~ Jon Stewart

Checklist for Disaster Recovery plan | Zmanda

Testing your DR plan against your backup strategy might sound daunting and cumbersome, but good old checklists are here to the rescue. A simple checklist helps keep the entire DR team on track, monitor deadlines, expectations, milestones to reach, etc. As mentioned earlier, documentation is key to intelligent and efficient working. Our next article presents a sample checklist that can serve as a base template for our users to tweak further to suit their backup requirements. To request a demo, to opt for a free trial or for any further queries, contact our trusted support team and receive instant guidance and support.  Zmanda is here for you!

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