2024 Gartner® report: Tips to bolster your disaster recovery program
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January 19, 2023

IT disaster recovery testing: Building your IT resilience

IT disasters are catastrophically common in today’s business environment. Outages, stoppages, and data breaches can all create significant challenges for companies that make it difficult to conduct normal operations.

Investing in proper IT disaster recovery testing enables you to develop your technology’s resilience and ensure you’re able to recover platforms, databases, and networks in the aftermath of an IT disaster.

What is IT disaster recovery testing?

Before defining IT disaster recovery testing, it’s important first to understand IT disaster recovery planning. An IT disaster recovery plan includes the roles, responsibilities, processes, and policies an organization has in place to ensure its systems and applications can quickly recover from incidents such as application and hardware failures, network outages, or cyber attacks. 

IT disaster recovery plans ensure businesses are able to restore lost data, applications, and systems during an unexpected emergency, such as a faulty configuration setting or cybersecurity breach, and continue delivering value to customers with as little disruption as possible.

IT disaster recovery testing, on the other hand, includes the planned examination of those disaster recovery plans in live settings. As part of their testing procedures, organizations simulate a disaster incident in order to measure the recovery time actuals (RTAs) against their defined recovery time objectives (RTOs) in stress-tested environments. Testing gives organizations important insight into their ability to respond to an IT disaster incident, providing feedback they can use to enhance their recovery plans and better respond to specific disaster scenarios.

Types of effective IT disaster recovery testing in action

There are three different types of IT disaster recovery tests commonly in use today, according to TechTarget. These include:

  • Plan review: Disaster recovery managers assess their entire plan step by step to ensure each phase adequately prepares the organization to respond to a disaster. Plan reviews are not conducted in simulated disaster settings. Instead, they give managers an opportunity to determine if there are components or responsibilities missing that need to be addressed.
  • Tabletop test: This type of disaster recovery exercise helps stakeholders work through their plans in a highly controlled testing environment. Each step, process, and responsibility is carefully presented and analyzed to ensure every individual knows what steps are required and where they fit in the larger recovery plan.
  • Simulation: The most effective type of IT disaster recovery testing, simulating a disaster scenario lets you test your disaster recovery plans in a near-live setting, giving you the most accurate feedback on the effectiveness of your recovery process. Simulations let you move beyond desktop disaster recovery planning and determine whether planned concepts work in an actual disaster.

Cutover recently commissioned research into the state of IT disaster recovery, providing deep insight into the testing capabilities and outlook of 300 organizations. Click here to download the full report.

The importance of IT disaster recovery testing

IT disaster recovery testing is an essential business function for today’s organizations and should be a critical component of disaster planning. It ensures you’re able to protect yourself from the most serious risks facing your business while ensuring staff are ready to respond in case a real disaster happens.

The benefits of effective disaster recovery testing include:

  • Mitigating damage: IT disasters are unexpected and can cause severe damage to your entire organization. An IT disaster recovery plan ensures you have well-defined roles, policies, and procedures that can be executed as soon as disaster strikes, helping you reduce system downtime and minimizing the impact on your business.
  • Avoiding non-compliance fees: Certain IT disasters (like data breaches) could subject organizations to costly lawsuits, steep data privacy noncompliance fees, and regulatory fines. Disaster recovery planning and testing ensure you have the policies and procedures in place to keep sensitive enterprise and consumer data safe, helping you avoid penalties.
  • Reducing risk exposure: Depending on the nature of their business and areas of operation, every organization has a different risk profile. It’s important that organizations test disaster scenarios that are relevant to the risks they face as a business, helping them devise recovery strategies that are best equipped to help them manage and overcome a crisis.

Common IT disaster recovery scenarios

Consider testing the following IT disaster recovery scenarios, depending on the needs of your business operation:

1. Cybercrime

Cybercrime is on the rise. As businesses increasingly migrate their applications, workflows, and sensitive company data to the cloud and other digital environments, they expose themselves to cyber criminals who are adept at penetrating those networks and exfiltrating data. According to one report from IBM, 83% of organizations have experienced at least one data breach, resulting in an average of $4.35 million in losses.

Depending on the nature of a cybersecurity attack, companies could lose sensitive consumer and enterprise data, access to critical business accounts, and the ability to transmit data within internal systems. In addition to seriously limiting a business’s capacity to complete normal functions, this could also damage its reputation and erode consumer trust in its information security mechanisms.

2. Data loss

Data is the central component of today’s business operations and data loss can have serious consequences that touch every part of the organization. While cybercrime is a principal source of data loss, it can also be caused by unrelated system outages, network crashes, or user errors.

The loss of enterprise data can make it difficult for employees to complete routine job functions, while lost consumer data can derail sales operations and marketing campaigns. The loss of customer data can be especially problematic as it can lead customers to abandon a brand altogether, possibly resulting in decreased revenue and business closure.

3. Staff exits

The smooth functioning of IT systems and procedures depends on experienced staff members. In rare cases, businesses must grapple with a sudden exodus of staff members, either due to layoffs, mass resignations, or, as the pandemic taught us, viral infections.

Businesses that lose a large number of IT personnel all at once become strained in their ability to support their IT infrastructure, maintain their cybersecurity posture, and solve day-to-day IT problems for the rest of the organization. This poses serious downstream challenges that could lead to system disruptions and productivity loss in all areas of the business.

Building an IT disaster recovery plan

The details of your IT disaster recovery plan depend on your specific business challenges and characteristics. However, there are some fundamental steps you can take to begin putting an appropriate disaster recovery plan in place. These include:

1. Understanding potential disaster scenarios

Before implementing a disaster recovery plan, you have to understand the likeliest disaster scenarios facing your business. This will help you to shape your recovery plans around the specific potential catastrophes that will pose the most serious challenges to your organization.

For example, cyberattacks could lead to power outages that scuttle your critical digital channels, like mobile apps and online platforms. This can make it impossible for customers to access your services and complete routine tasks, leading to serious frustration and frayed consumer relationships.

2. Identifying critical data and systems

It’s important to identify and understand the IT systems and data stores that are critical to your operations. This includes the enterprise and consumer data needed to complete the most important operating tasks as well as the IT systems that facilitate essential workflows and processes.

To use the above example, a disaster recovery plan might failover your critical systems to more secure cloud environments to ensure continuity even if outages cause damage. It’s important to note that even if your systems are hosted in the cloud, you still need to have a plan to failover between locations if one fails.

3. Taking a complete inventory of your hardware and software assets

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends itemizing every hardware and software asset in your entire IT environment, including computers, smartphones, networks, servers, and software applications. In the event of an IT disaster, your asset inventory will give you a blueprint when replacing hardware equipment and redownloading software applications.

This step should happen alongside the planning procedures described in the previous phase. It’s important to identify and prioritize the hardware and software assets needed to sustain critical business functions so you know where to focus your recovery efforts when disaster strikes.

4. Assigning roles and responsibilities

Having preassigned roles and responsibilities is especially important when communicating recovery actions in a real disaster scenario. It’s important that individuals know who is responsible for initiating the disaster recovery plan and communicating first steps to the key stakeholders to unlock other elements of the recovery plan.

Individuals assigned to manage and execute your disaster recovery procedures should also be responsible for continuously assessing the risk landscape and updating plans as needed. This ensures your organization stays vigilant in the face of evolving risks and challenges.

5. Conducting regular disaster recovery testing

Effective IT disaster recovery planning requires routine disaster recovery testing to ensure plans proceed as expected in live settings. Testing enables you to examine the effectiveness of your plans while also identifying possible shortcomings that can be addressed to achieve your recovery time objective.

As part of your testing initiatives, you should also stay abreast of the latest changes to all relevant regulatory standards. Compliance regulations are routinely updated to address shifts in the threat landscape, and failing to account for those could expose your organization to preventable risk and cause you to pay steep penalty fees.

While most organizations consider IT disaster recovery testing important, many give their employees notice before initiating a test. At Cutover, we provide organizations with the tools to conduct unannounced IT DR testing to more closely mimic an actual disaster, giving you the confidence that your disaster recovery procedures and processes will work as planned. 

Our technology enables you to bridge the gap between people and technology to help you run a more complex disaster recovery test across your entire organization. Reach out to our team to learn more.

IT Disaster Recovery
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