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Editor's note: This item was updated and expanded in October 2017.
Business continuity and disaster recovery plans are useless until you test them. Fortunately, many types of tests are possible, ranging from the standard disaster recovery testing administrators perform to ensure applications and systems fail over to another site, to the more complex business continuity testing that requires company-wide involvement. The key to success is to incorporate testing as part of the overall business continuity/disaster recovery management process.
Organizations can suffer enormous financial losses by not testing their disaster recovery (DR) plans because any downtime can mean loss of revenue. But testing requires management support, time for preparation and execution, funding, careful planning, and a structured process, from pretest through test and post-test evaluation.
SearchDisasterRecovery has created a business continuity (BC) testing template and guide to show you how to build and execute your test. You will learn how to conduct a business continuity test, the participants that should be included and how to develop a successful BC/DR testing strategy.
An introduction to business continuity testing
Three fundamental test types are used in business continuity testing: a plan review, a tabletop test and a simulation test. Let's examine each one briefly.
- In a plan review, the BC/DR plan owner and team discuss the plan. They examine the plan document in detail, looking for missing plan elements and inconsistencies.
- In a tabletop test, participants gather in a room to walk through the plan activities step by step. Tabletop exercises can effectively demonstrate whether team members know their duties in an emergency. Documentation errors, missing information and inconsistencies across business continuity management (BCM) plans can be identified.
- To determine if BCM procedures and resources work in a more realistic situation, a simulation test is desirable. It uses established business continuity resources, such as recovery sites, backup systems and other specialized services. Teams may be sent to alternate sites to restart technology, as well as business functions. Simulations may also uncover staff issues regarding the nature of their tasks. In effect, a simulation is a full-scale test without actually failing over. The use of scenarios is recommended in simulations.
How to use BC/DR templates
SearchDisasterRecovery's business continuity testing plan template provides a starting point to prepare and execute a BC test. It provides a testing framework without addressing a specific plan format. All phases of a test -- pretest panning, test execution, post-test review and final report preparation -- are supported. The actual test activity, including test structure, scenarios, scripts and injects, and adjunct activities, such as audio and video programs, are at your discretion.
The key to using our BC template is to follow all of the steps outlined: pretest planning, conducting the test, identifying and training the test participants, conducting post-test debriefing, and preparing the final summary reports.
Our disaster recovery testing template provides step-by-step procedures for recovering systems and networks that have been disrupted by unplanned incidents. The goal of the template is to identify mission-critical systems and networks; prioritize their recovery times; and describe all of the steps that are required to restart, reconfigure and recover all of those resources. There is also space to include an employee call tree and supplier contacts.
Effective business continuity/disaster recovery testing strategies
The templates provided in this article will help improve business continuity and disaster recovery plans. But no matter how often you test BC/DR plans, when reality strikes, your response will likely be much different than in the tests.
Key strategies for testing include starting simple, raising the bar in terms of difficulty, involving vendors and stakeholders in tests, making tests so difficult it is impossible to succeed, and launching surprise tests. When launching a testing exercise program, start with plan reviews and tabletops. This will help staff get comfortable with the testing process. As they improve, increase the level of test complexity.
Remember that if a test fails it is not a failure; rather, it is a success. It is far better to identify systems and procedures that may fail and rectify them before a real incident occurs. Finally, a true test is to launch a surprise incident. This will truly show how well-prepared the company is to address a real incident.
The primary reason for testing is to identify deficiencies in BC/DR plans. Ideally, successful tests will uncover and document problems. Tests that appear to be successful and uncover no problems should be suspect.
One of the key areas that should be evaluated during testing is the recovery time objective to keep any downtime to a minimum. These tests present opportunities to fix problems before a disaster happens.
Remember to take your BC/DR plans out for a spin
Develop disaster scenarios to test BC/DR strategy
BC/DR standards your organization should know