Desk-top exercises do not create foolproof disaster recovery plans. While they do help in storyboarding the plan and setting down the broad constructs for disaster recovery, testing is necessary to ascertain that the plan works the way you want it to! Untested plans are recipes for disasters within disasters!
So, what is to be done to test a disaster recovery plan? One cannot create disasters that prove the plan. At best, one can simulate a disaster scenario and walkthrough the steps outlined in the plan to identify and fine-tune the component elements. Let us assume that you anticipate a situation where your local data centre suddenly becomes unavailable and unrecoverable due to floods, fire or earthquake. What are your options? What is your critical RTO, recovery time objective? Will you be able to recover your data and get your business running within the time frame envisaged? You will find out when you “test drive” your disaster recovery plan.
If you have your data backed up to a remote cloud based server you can ask your users to login to the Cloud based server via the Internet and commence business operations immediately. You can now record the time taken to switch over from your local data center to the remote cloud based backup. Are you able to get your business up and running within minutes of the disaster? Is your business back and operating within the time frame you assumed it will happen? If not, why? How widely does the estimate diverge from the reality?
Meanwhile, you can set out to test the time to recover parameters for a more permanent recovery, by simulating the recovery procedure in parallel. Set up a new server with the same or similar hardware, recover the operating system and applications and recover your data. You will now understand the kind of software/hardware glitches you will encounter. You will begin to appreciate what it takes to get your backup tapes/disks from the offsite vaults to the recovery location for recovery operations. You will realize that tapes/disks often fail when you are desperate to recover the data contained in them or that Internet speeds are not what you thought they are and recovery takes longer than you anticipated and so on.
The “test drive” of the disaster recovery plan will highlight the impracticality or the theoretical basis of many of the assumptions you made while drafting the plan! You will now have the capacity to fine-tune the plan and make more realistic estimates of the time to recover after a disaster and have a better understanding of what really happens in a disaster situation first hand.