Backup and disaster recovery testing has long been regarded as a best practice, yet there are still many organizations that simply do not test their recovery plans.
There are any number of reasons why disaster recovery and IT teams might not be testing on a regular basis. Some common reasons include being too busy, not understanding the importance of testing or being confused by testing best practices.
A good rule of thumb for disaster recovery testing is to perform limited testing on a frequent and ongoing basis. This often is how organizations test their ability to recover a specific application or data set backup. However, more comprehensive testing should be done at least once a year.
So, what are good reasons to do yearly disaster recovery testing? Here are five to consider.
1. Testing is the best way to ensure backup recoverability
Simply put, recovery testing is the best way to ensure that data backups are recoverable. Until an organization performs recovery testing, there is no way to know for certain if backups will work as intended. While it is true that most backup applications are equipped with verification features, backup verifications are not a substitute for actual recovery testing.
2. Recovery testing can validate SLA compliance
Recovery testing doesn't just confirm the ability to recover key systems in times of crisis. Testing can also show how long such a recovery operation will take to complete. Most larger organizations subject their IT departments to recovery service-level agreements, or SLAs. These agreements stipulate, among other things, the maximum amount of time that a data recovery operation can take. Recovery testing is the only way to know for sure whether IT teams will be able to recover a system within the allotted time.
3. Testing keeps backup and recovery skills sharp
Another reason why comprehensive recovery testing is so important is because the testing process helps to keep the backup operators' skills sharp. In other words, testing gives backup operators the chance to practice what they would do following a disaster. Without this practice, those responsible for recovering mission-critical systems might have no choice but to use trial and error until they figure out how the recovery process works.
4. Recovery testing can reveal data protection gaps
Yearly recovery testing can help an organization to verify that all its systems are adequately protected. A recovery test might reveal that admins have not backed up a particular system. While such discoveries are somewhat rare, they do happen.
In a more common scenario, organizations might discover that a key system is being protected, but recovery points are not being created frequently enough to comply with a recently changed recovery point objective.
5. Testing can show what to realistically expect during a crisis
Finally, yearly recovery testing can help discover what the business can realistically expect to happen during a crisis. The internet is filled with stories of organizations that were unable to restore their data in a timely manner following a disaster because of something simple but unexpected. For example, a critical recovery once ground to a halt because the backup software unexpectedly asked for a password that nobody knew.
In another situation, the backup application itself had to be reinstalled prior to beginning a restore operation, and the driver for the tape drive could not be located. These types of issues, while simple, can sometimes derail recovery efforts. Annual testing can help discover unexpected nuances before they can impede a real-world recovery.