Disaster Recovery Testing: A Comprehensive Guide for MSPs
Disaster recovery testing is critical across businesses and industries. For Managed Service Providers (MSPs), it should be part of the services you offer, and it’s often a requirement for cyber insurance. That means MSPs must choose business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) solutions that enable fast, efficient, documented DR testing. Having a disaster recovery plan alone is no longer enough.
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Keep reading to learn more about this essential process, how to implement tests, and discover the modern innovations that make it easy.
What is Disaster Recovery Testing?
The process involves systemically evaluating and validating the effectiveness of your DR plan and procedures in the event of disruptive incidents – including cyberattacks like ransomware, accidental data loss, hardware failures, public cloud outages, and natural disasters. This proactive process determines your capacity to restore critical IT systems, applications, and data swiftly and efficiently. By simulating various disaster recovery scenarios, MSPs can identify vulnerabilities, fine-tune strategies, and enhance overall preparedness to minimize downtime and data loss.
MSPs can leverage regular, full-office disaster recovery tests to reinforce the value of their services to clients. Provide documentation to prove backup health and bootability to clients for reliable recovery. You can also leverage the testing performed within your MSP to emphasize your commitment to cybersecurity best practices.
Disaster Scenarios and Potential Business Impacts
MSPs face a range of disaster scenarios that can significantly impact your operations and clients’ businesses. If you can’t deliver the disaster recovery you’ve promised, you risk straining your reputation and client relationships – potentially resulting in client attrition and financial losses. Moreover, the costs associated with disaster recovery, including ransom payments, data restoration, legal fees, breach notification, and regulatory fines, can create a significant financial burden for MSPs – especially without cyber insurance.
Cyberattacks continue to target small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBS), including MSPs. According to the 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) from Verizon, ransomware remains a top attack method in breaches, accounting for 24% of total breaches. Ransomware attacks on MSPs are high stakes due to the amount of client data within your systems. If your MSP is attacked (and it is likely), you may be unable to service clients, contributing to their operational downtime and dissatisfaction. Not only do you have to allocate resources to recover your systems, but you also have to support client recovery efforts. Of course, when clients suffer an attack (and chances are they will), you must be prepared to keep their business running.
Despite regular ransomware headlines, humans remain the number one cause of data loss, accounting for 82% of breaches. Whether it’s accidental or malicious data deletion or a well-intentioned employee falling victim to a scam, humans threaten data security. MSPs must educate clients and guide them toward comprehensive tools that protect data and enable disaster recovery regardless of the environment.
For example, the article if you’re not backing up Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, you’re not delivering business continuity. These productivity suites have limited retention, are not liable for disruption or loss, suffer outages, and recommend third-party backup. Most SMBs assume that backup and restore options are built into these big-name brands. Unfortunately, when a critical file gets accidentally deleted – after just 14 days, it’s gone for good. Failing to protect this data can devastate clients, eroding your authority, trustworthiness, and reputation with clients and within the channel.
Natural disasters also pose a substantial risk to MSPs and their SMB clients – regardless of your location. While businesses in certain areas face a higher threat of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, snow storms, and other weather, every business is at risk for power outages, fires, and damage to physical environments and hardware. These scenarios can affect production systems, storage systems, and backup systems, halting business operations when unexpected issues arise. Don’t think, “It won’t happen to me.” Assume that it will and proactively prepare to recover.
Goals and Benefits of Disaster Recovery Testing
The goals of disaster recovery testing inherently benefit MSPs with proof of disaster recovery readiness.
Validate Disaster Recovery Plan Effectiveness
Your DR plan owner will run disaster recovery testing scripts to role-play different scenarios within different client environments. Tests should be executed regularly to account for evolving threat vectors and infrastructure changes and to update disaster recovery planning accordingly. It also highlights vulnerabilities by identifying gaps in disaster recovery process documentation, solution capabilities, or labor needs. With visibility into potential issues, MSPs can implement risk mitigation strategies before it’s too late. A disaster recovery test also ensures you can meet the recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) in your SLAs for client satisfaction.
Meet Cyber Insurance Requirements Efficiently
Improving your disaster recovery plan strengthens your cybersecurity resilience, which is exactly what cyber-liability carriers look for. Today’s MSPs need cyber insurance protection to help compensate for high disaster recovery costs. MSPs are considered “high-risk” in the eyes of insurance carriers due to the amount of data they manage. As a result, the cyber insurance requirements for MSPs can be difficult to meet.
MSPs are expected to perform regular disaster recovery testing and demonstrate proof with results. MSPs rely on modern, innovative, automated BCDR solutions to meet qualifications and lower premiums. Unlike legacy backup and disaster recovery (BDR) tools, BCDR automates time-consuming and error-prone manual tasks for testing and reporting. In qualifying for business-critical cyber insurance, MSPs modernize and consolidate their stacks according to cybersecurity best practices – it’s a win-win.
Reduce Recovery Costs
Ultimately, disaster recovery testing delivers cost savings to MSPs. A tried and true disaster recovery plan speeds and streamlines reliable recovery, directly impacting your bottom line. As recovery accelerates, downtime decreases, and the cost of business disruptions, recovery, breach notifications, legal fees, and reputational damage reduces. Furthermore, MSPs can use their test results to increase their value with clients and introduce new services to grow the business and create additional revenue streams. On top of that, qualifying for cyber insurance is also an excellent advertisement for your MSP’s commitment to holistic data protection.
Developing a Disaster Recovery Testing Plan
Creating a disaster recovery testing plan includes several key steps to form a complete and reliable disaster recovery strategy.
Risk Assessment and Impact Analysis: The initial step is to conduct a thorough risk assessment, identifying potential disaster scenarios that could impact your MSP and your clients. Assess the likelihood and predict the fallout of cyber events based on specific environments, location of physical equipment and offices, regulatory and compliance standards, level of protection enabled, and availability of resources. By understanding these risks, MSPs can prioritize test efforts and optimization opportunities for business continuity plans.
Defining Recovery Objectives: MSPs and clients must establish clear recovery objectives for mutually agreed-upon expectations. Determining RTOs and RPOs for various systems and data depends on what clients need and how fast MSPs can deliver. RTO defines how quickly systems must be restored, while RPO defines acceptable data loss during recovery. These objectives guide the tests by setting measurable benchmarks for recovery performance.
Designing Test Scenarios: Create a variety of test scenarios that simulate different disaster events using disaster recovery testing scripts. These can include varying degrees of encryption and systems interruption during cyberattacks, hardware failures by location, data corruption due to human error, and public cloud outages. Mock situations must reflect the real-world threats and challenges that MSPs and their clients could face. A diverse set of conceivable incidents allows you to create flow charts in your disaster recovery plan for fast and accurate decision-making.
Test Plan Development: A detailed test plan outlines the scope, objectives, methodologies, and responsibilities across team members. It provides a roadmap for executing the tests, including the specific systems, applications, and the data involved in each scenario. Plans should also include a schedule to make need-to-know employees aware of a planned testing date, a list of necessary resources to prepare, and outlined communication protocols to inform stakeholders throughout the process.
Test Execution: MSPs execute predefined test scenarios in a controlled environment during the actual testing phase. Depending on your solutions, you might need to create an isolated test environment or use specialized disaster recovery tools to simulate the disaster and the recovery. MSPs can use a disaster recovery testing checklist to standardize and streamline execution. After deploying tests, MSP must closely monitor and document the results of each test, noting any issues, discrepancies, or areas for improvement.
Analysis and Optimization: After tests are complete, a thorough examination of the results is essential. Evaluate the effectiveness of recovery processes, identify any bottlenecks or weaknesses, and assess whether RTOs and RPOs were met. These insights allow MSP to refine disaster recovery testing and strategies, update procedures, and enhance overall cybersecurity preparedness.
Documentation and Training: Documenting the testing process, results, and lessons learned is crucial for future reference. Documentation should be regularly updated as MSP technology and client landscapes evolve. Additionally, training staff members on the updated disaster recovery processes ensures the team is well-prepared to respond effectively during the real thing.
Testing Types and Methodologies
Approaches vary by scope, ecosystem size, time allotted, budget, and preferences. By combining test types and methodologies and reiterating tests based on objectives, MSPs can holistically evaluate their processes to handle various disruptions. Which tests look best to you?
Full-Scale Tests: A comprehensive approach that tests the entire recovery process. MSPs temporarily switch to their disaster recovery environment and restore all systems, applications, and data. While it does give you a realistic assessment of your ability to repair, it can be resource-intensive and disruptive to ongoing operations.
Partial Tests: Also known as a “component test” or “segmented test,” this approach focuses on specific IT infrastructure components. MSPs isolate individual systems or applications to test their recovery capabilities. This method allows for more targeted assessments and can be less disruptive than full-scale testing. It’s beneficial for identifying vulnerabilities in critical infrastructures.
Hybrid Tests: By combining full-scale and partial testing elements, hybrid tests assess critical components comprehensively while simulating other features in a controlled manner. It balances accuracy and resource efficiency, providing valuable insights into overall recovery.
Tabletop Exercises: Scenario-based discussions with key stakeholders where participants walk through simulations of potential incidents and discuss the responses. These cost-effective exercises help identify gaps in communication, decision-making, and resources. While they don’t involve technical recovery, practice drills enhance coordination and team preparedness.
Parallel Testing: MSPs set up duplicate environments parallel to the production environment. During testing, data replication and synchronization mechanisms allow MSPs to verify the effectiveness of recovery procedures. MSPs can validate system functionality in the duplicate environment before a disaster occurs in production.
Data Center Test: Migrate operations to an alternate data center to confirm that it can take over in case of a primary data center failure. This test assesses the effectiveness of data replication, failover, and data center redundancy.
Random Failure Test: Simulate random failures of hardware components, software, or networks to determine how their mechanisms respond to unexpected incidents. Identify weak points in the infrastructure and ensure that strategies are well-rounded.
Scheduled Recovery Test: Testing should always be scheduled regularly for ongoing reliability and validation of processes. As technology evolves, new threats emerge, and innovative tools become available, MSPs can adapt and take advantage. Scheduled tests can mix full-scale, partial, and other test types, depending on your needs.
Best Practices for MSPs
Best practices are essential to improve recovery strategy effectiveness, efficiency, and cost. Sure, you might be able to perform tests with your current solution, but how many technicians are required? How long does it take? How precise are the results? How are the results analyzed? And how do you share outcomes with clients and insurance providers? Legacy BDR solutions are resource-intensive, time-consuming, and dependent on manual interventions. These inefficiencies create a barrier between MSPs and testing best practices.
Automate Backup Testing
With modern and innovative BCDR, you can automate your cyber threat offense using automatic backup and testing capabilities. Rather than manually checking backups, MSPs can automatically verify their integrity with nightly assessments of all drives and data. When backup failures are detected, automatic self-remediation technology self-heals by re-backing up the compromised portion of data and alerting team members with custom escalation rules. MSPs can continue to reduce the labor required for DR testing with automatically generated reports demonstrating backup testing, automation, and evidence of results.
Automate Disaster Recovery Testing
Furthermore, BCDR automation enables regular full-office disaster recovery tests with minimal effort, cost, or demand from your MSP. With advanced cloud failover features, MSPs can easily test and optimize DR plans and share results. Rubooks let MSPs configure automatic deployment plans for virtualized devices so that DR is possible with the push of a button. In testing, MSPs can create a runbook to test client-specific environments with specific disaster scenarios to enhance DR planning.
Utilizing automation gives MSPs the one-two punch for cyber threat offense and defense. Fewer manual tasks mean technicians can focus on adding value for clients and the MSP. Done-for-you reporting enhances visibility into recovery processes and reinforces risk mitigation strategies for cyber insurance. With modern BCDR, MSPs get business enablement on top of cybersecurity to increase profits and eliminate barriers to efficient DR planning and testing.
In the dynamic landscape of modern business technology, disaster recovery testing stands as a cornerstone of preparedness for MSPs. As explored in this comprehensive guide, carefully orchestrating testing types, methodologies, and best practices equips MSPs with the tools to keep business running. By adopting a proactive approach that evaluates diverse disaster scenarios, aligns with recovery objectives, and prioritizes regular DR testing and DR plan optimization, MSPs can confidently navigate the unpredictable terrain of disruptions. Committing to rigorous and thoughtful disaster recovery testing ensures that MSPs remain at the forefront of resilience, enabling swift recovery from incidents and a glowing reputation among clients.
Protect Everything™ with Axcient BCDR
See how Axcient empowers MSPs with patented and proprietary features designed specifically to address the issues MSPs face. Built-in, always-on automation for backup and DR testing – on top of ransomware and data deletion protections, deployment flexibility, and a unified platform for easy management – gives you and your clients peace of mind to sleep soundly.
About the Author: Carissa Johnson // Product Marketing Manager, Axcient
Carissa Kohn-Johnson has a background in healthcare technology and information technology, and is now the Product Marketing Manager for Axcient. She has a lot of MSP Channel experience from planning and attending hundreds of conferences and tradeshows, and found her passion in IT. Carissa is also an elected official in Cary NC, a town chock full of technology-forward people. Connect with her on LinkedIn – perhaps you can contribute to the Axcient blog?