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How a Disaster Recovery Scenarios Test Safeguards Your Business (with examples)

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Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT


Disaster Recovery Scenarios

Constantly worrying about potential disasters isn’t good for your stress level or your organization, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. A disaster recovery scenarios test offers the peace of mind that your business will recover when an operational disruption occurs. However, knowing which disaster recovery scenarios to test can be tricky, particularly in an era when threats are constantly evolving.

Some businesses only test scenarios that affect their IT or data backup systems. Others test recovery plans solely for a natural disaster or—given the events of the past few years—a pandemic. In truth, all these scenarios are worth testing because they can lead to serious complications, including staffing shortages, supply-chain disruptions, and data loss.

There are endless disaster recovery scenarios to consider if you want to be 100% prepared for every imaginable situation, but many businesses don’t have the time or resources for this robust level of testing. Let’s look at some of the most crucial scenarios to test for so you can focus your efforts where they matter most.

9 Disaster Recovery Example Scenarios to Test

Every organization faces specific risks, and your testing should reflect the unique challenges that you’re most likely to encounter. However, there are a few scenarios that essentially every business should test.

1) Data Loss and Backup Recovery

When data loss occurs, it’s vital that your business is able to quickly restore it from a backup, regardless of whether an employee accidentally deleted a single file or an entire server has failed. If you can’t restore the data, then the situation can quickly devolve into a costly nightmare.

Data backups can help you avoid those disastrous outcomes, but only if they’re viable and you can restore them. Run tests on file-level restores and full machine recoveries to ensure that you can complete both if a real-world event occurs. After your testing is over, answer these questions to evaluate the results:

  • How long did the recovery take?
  • Did you meet your recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs)?
  • What unexpected issues hindered your recovery?
  • What improvements could you make to speed up the recovery process?

Throughout your testing, carefully document your process and results. If issues suggest you need to make changes, such as technology deployments, protocols, or the testing scenarios themselves, update your disaster recovery plan accordingly.

2) Failed Backups

Despite what some organizations assume, having a backup system in place doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to recover your data. Failures are a common problem for businesses that rely on traditional incremental backups because of the increased possibility of data corruption in the backup chain.

Testing for a failed backup typically involves two types of responses. If time allows it, you could troubleshoot the problem to see if you can restore the backup. On the other hand, if you have a secondary backup available that you can restore quickly, that’s usually a better option than wasting precious time trying to fix or reconstruct the failed backup.

Restoring from a separate backup will require its own set of additional testing scenarios, such as:

  • Recovering from a cloud backup
  • Bare metal restore
  • Backup virtualization
  • Hypervisor restore
  • Export of backup image
  • iSCSI Restore

Some data backup systems have additional restore options that allow you to undo widespread file changes, such as those caused by ransomware. Since each business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) solution is unique, strive to periodically test every possible recovery method to ensure those options are usable in a real disaster.

3) Backup Verification Testing

Manually testing your backups is always a good idea, but it’s also time-consuming. Many backup systems, including solutions for small businesses, now feature automated backup verification and validation checks to make this process more efficient. Backup verification confirms that you can restore a backup with automated testing, checking each new backup for signs of data corruption or any other issues that could impede the recovery process.

While verification testing is automatic by design, it still requires oversight. Keep these points in mind when evaluating whether your backup verification is effective:

  • How often does backup verification occur?
  • Is it configured properly?
  • How do you know when a verification succeeds or fails?
  • What types of issues is the verification looking for, and do you have control over these scans?

As with all the other components of your disaster recovery planning, use the data you collect during your testing to make updates and changes for better outcomes.

4) Network Interruptions and Outages

A prolonged network outage can be just as disruptive as a data-loss event. When the network goes down or a single workstation suddenly can’t connect, IT managers must react quickly. Testing your preparedness for network interruptions is the best way to ensure that you can rapidly resolve issues when they occur. A variety of network testing tools can simulate common disaster scenarios, including:

  • Testing for unexpected surges in network traffic
  • Conducting mock tests that replicate the effects of a crippling network attack
  • Using network health testing that identifies potential problems in specific parts of the network
  • Performing readiness tests that ensure that IT teams can respond quickly

Avoid limiting yourself to software-based testing. Network administrators should also routinely test these disaster recovery scenarios and go through the recovery protocols to confirm that they know exactly what to do during a disruption.

5) Hardware Failures

Hardware failures are a common cause of data loss and operational disruptions. That’s why, in addition to testing your backups and networks, your business should test your hardware to determine how quickly you can repair or replace it. Start by asking these questions:

  • How will you determine whether you should salvage or replace hardware?
  • If new hardware is necessary, how quickly can you deploy it?
  • How can you speed up the process with disaster recovery planning measures, such as vendor relationships that ensure same-day replacement?

A full recovery of your hardware and associated systems is critical for maintaining business continuity, so all of these questions relate to processes that your organization should routinely review and test.

6) Utility Outages

Another important disaster recovery scenario to test is a sudden loss of electricity or other utilities. These events most commonly occur during severe weather and other natural disasters, but that’s not the only factor at play.

Experts are increasingly concerned that extremist groups will target the United States power grid as a means of causing chaos and disorder. These kinds of incidents are already happening, such as the 2022 attack in Moore County, North Carolina that left 45,000 people without power.

When these and other incidents occur, businesses are usually at the mercy of the utility provider to restore your utilities, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. Finding other ways to restore your operations can help keep down the potentially skyrocketing costs of a power outage.

At the first signs of a disruption, recovery teams should take a few critical steps:

  • Assess whether the outage is localized or widespread
  • Report the outage to the utility provider and get estimated resolution times
  • Inspect backup power sources, if deployed, to ensure they’re working properly
  • Prioritize critical services and personnel and, when possible, have teams work remotely

Testing each of these protocols ensures that your recovery teams can act swiftly and appropriately no matter the cause or duration of the outage.

7) On-Site Threats and Physical Dangers

Many disaster scenarios are extremely harmful to your employees and operations but have little or nothing to do with your IT systems. For that reason, your organization should expand your disaster recovery and business continuity testing beyond IT. For example, if your business faces an active shooter situation, employees need to know what to do and where to go to protect themselves.

Testing for different crisis scenarios can greatly reduce the risk of harm to the people in your organization. This, in turn, limits damage to your operations. Some of the tests you might want to conduct include:

  • Evacuation drills for fires, active shooters, and other on-site dangers
  • Emergency procedures for tornadoes, earthquakes, and other sudden natural disasters
  • Testing the communications systems that you’ll use to update employees during a prolonged disaster

Depending on your location, tests like fire drills may also be a legal requirement.

8) Workforce Interruptions

Situations far outside your business walls can affect your operations by preventing your employees from doing their jobs. These scenarios range from viral outbreaks to transportation stoppages to terrorist activity. Having a Plan B in each of these cases is vital to your business’s ability to function.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of how sudden shifts in business operations can fail or succeed based on preparation and planning. During the initial stages of the crisis, more than 30% of organizations increased remote work. Unfortunately, many of them were unprepared to make the change, resulting in stressed IT systems, increased cybersecurity risks, and lost productivity.

Testing in advance of these types of incidents prevents many of these issues. This process might involve testing multiple elements of your operations, such as:

  • IT systems and platforms that facilitate remote work
  • Procedures that help to maintain critical operations
  • Your business’s ability to relocate operations

Essentially, your business should test any process or system that you’ll use in response to a workforce interruption.

9) Cybersecurity

The cybersecurity landscape constantly shifts, so it’s important to regularly evaluate whether your cybersecurity systems can detect and block potential threats. This means running tests for full-blown cyberattacks as well as the smaller threats that your business faces every day, such as malware infections.

A comprehensive cybersecurity testing strategy might include:

  • Security audit: An extensive review of existing software, hardware, and security policies to identify overall cybersecurity strength
  • Penetration tests: Mock cyberattacks conducted internally or by third-party cybersecurity firms to test whether malware or hackers can penetrate your systems
  • Vulnerability assessment: A comprehensive assessment of deployed systems to identify vulnerabilities, gaps, and weaknesses
  • Social engineering tests: Mock social engineering attacks, such as phishing emails, that you conduct internally to test how employees respond and how easy it is to deceive them

Along with this testing, your business should also provide routine cybersecurity training to educate all employees on safe practices. Employees should know how to identify a suspicious email and what to do with it. This training should ideally be part of the onboarding process for new hires and a yearly requirement for current employees. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of an attack or data breach due to human error.

Don’t Wait to Run a Disaster Recovery Scenarios Test

By testing various disaster scenarios on a regular basis, your business can ensure that it has the systems and procedures in place to recover from a disruption. This testing should include scenarios involving data loss, failed backups, network outages, cyberattacks, hardware failures, on-site emergencies, and workforce interruptions, just to name a few. While routine testing might seem like a time-consuming hassle, it reduces your risk level and confirms that the strategies outlined in your disaster recovery plan will be effective.

At Invenio IT, we’ve seen businesses of every size suffer because they didn’t take the time to prepare for disasters. Set up a call with one of our data protection specialists to learn more about how disaster recovery testing could save your business.

Frequently Asked Questions About Disaster Recovery Examples and Disaster Recovery  Testing

Most businesses should test each of the scenarios that they identify in the risk assessment section of their business continuity or disaster recovery plan. To help determine what those might be, we’ve answered some of the most common questions our clients ask about the process.

1. What is disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery is a planning framework that equips your organization with the tools and procedures to restore your operations and withstand potential disasters. It consists of recovery strategies, such as data backups that allow you to restore lost data after accidental deletion or a cyberattack.

2. What is a disaster scenario example?

A disaster scenario is any event that disrupts your business operations. It might involve IT systems, such as server failures, or physical infrastructure, such as building damage from a flood or fire. Every business is at risk of many disaster scenarios, and it’s vital that you identify them with a risk assessment in your disaster recovery plan.

3. What do you test for disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery testing should include business-critical IT systems and recovery procedures. This often includes backup systems, network systems, backup power generators, and emergency response drills. If a system or process affects whether your business can sustain operations in a disaster, then you should test it for disaster recovery.

4. How often should you test disaster recovery plans?

As a general rule, your organization should review and update its disaster recovery plans once a year. However, some systems and procedures require more frequent testing. For example, test data backups for integrity and recoverability at least once a week, and conduct additional tests for various restore methods, such as local and off-site virtualizations, once a month.

5. Why is disaster recovery testing important?

Disaster recovery testing is important because it’s the only way to guarantee that a business has taken the necessary steps to recover from a future operational disruption. It confirms that recovery systems and procedures are effective and uncovers potential errors, gaps, or weaknesses that could hinder the recovery process.

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