A dirty secret in the data backup and disaster recovery business is that most MSPs do not test the data they back up, no matter what type of medium they use. And as a consequence, many companies find out that their backups don't work when they encounter a real IT disaster. Verifying that the data stored on production server volumes is actually being backed up, AND testing that the data is not corrupt, are key actions to take to prevent this issue. Then once you've done this, why not go the extra mile and run a full-blown fire drill? I'll explain...
Why Regular Testing and Verification Need to be Part of Your Data Backup Solution:
This is a no brainer. Most large companies will test their business continuity plan annually. Data backups should be tested more frequently - at least weekly, but we prefer daily - and whenever there is a major hardware or software change to your backup system. For example, an upgrade of the hardware, software, or firmware in your backup system is an automatic trigger to run a test to make sure the change works properly with the rest of your system. Another automatic trigger for testing is adding new servers or data volumes to your client's production server environment. The rate of change in a client’s server environment is rapid. As a result, MSPs need to ensure that recently added volumes or entire servers have actually been added to the backup.
What are requirements to include in a backup test?
Your backup recovery plan should include a specific list of test requirements. Making sure all data is readable and can be recovered from backup media is essential. Files can accidentally be deleted or overwritten and local storage media is subject to defects. So conducting local and offline copy testing should be a baseline requirement for your managed IT services firm. Additionally, your backup recovery plan needs to cover the test frequency of the local copy and the offline or cloud copy of the backup.
You also need to consider how extensive your backup test needs to be. Is it good enough to know—and to show your customer—that you can mount the backup and access the backup files? Or do you actually log in to a working clone, or virtual server, in order to confirm that the virtualized backup copy is actually bootable. Most of the major backup and disaster recovery (BDR) vendors provide “screenshot” proof of each virtualized server’s test restore on a daily or weekly basis, but in addition to this, I recommend MSPs simulate a full IT disaster drill on this bootable virtualized server. Indeed if your managed IT services offering recognizes the difference between business continuity and backup and promises clients 24x7x365 peace of mind, you will certainly want to opt for this “fire drilling” approach.
You Already Test Backups So Why Run a Fire Drill?
You should replicate the conditions you will face when you need to actually restore, as much as possible. But take this to the next level by performing a well-thought-out fire drill, and you will set yourself apart, thereby helping you to close more MSP deals.
Simulate a disaster recovery fire drill by putting on a full court press show and pretending that a disaster has taken out the test IT environment's servers. Of course, you will need to simulate restoration of service to your customer by initializing a virtualized copy on the local BDR or doing the same on a cloud server, and then provide the client access to their line of business application.
Differentiate yourself from the MSP competition.
Now, I understand that this process means using dedicated resources and going through a lot of trouble for the MSP and the client, so you may be wondering why you should add simulated backup disasters to your managed services agreement? Because it is a selling point! In other words, this could become your unique selling proposition, what separates you from other MSPs that fail to test their data and don't run fire drills with their customers. Once you have added fire drills to your managed services agreement, ask prospects if their current IT provider offers these data tests to verify that the restoration process works. If not, you can successfully differentiate yourself from the MSP competition.
Justify additional managed IT services expenses.
Another issue facing IT solutions providers is the need to constantly justify their fees to clients. When MSPs do an excellent job providing preventative monitoring and maintenance, their clients (unaware of the volume of alerts the MSP addresses remotely) will start to wonder what they are paying for. This is one of those dilemmas that comes with the territory. But what can smart MSPs do to prevent this attitude from creeping into their clients' minds? Well, the very showy concept of involving your clients and conducting these disaster recovery fire drills just might be what the doctor ordered to warrant your monthly fees.
Test the reliability of the entire backup recovery process.
Most importantly, conducting disaster recovery fire drills just makes sense when evaluating the robustness of your entire data recovery strategy. If something has changed and the test fails, you will be the one to discover that the backups don’t work, NOT your client. You can then present them with an action plan to prevent backup failure from happening in the future. Doing your job, and showing clients that you are doing your job, will help you retain and delight them for years to come. The consequences of not instituting regular fire drills may range from losing your client all the way to getting hit with a lawsuit.
We're a longtime Continuum partner that leverages the IT management platform's fully-managed BDR solution, Continuum BDR. As such, we are able to promote to our clients that they'll receive 24x7x365 technical support. How does this work? We're able to leverage Continuum's Network Operations Center (NOC), a team of 650+ highly skilled and certified technicians that acts as an extension of our own team, monitoring, troubleshooting and verifying our clients' backups, as well as providing recovery and testing support. We consider this proactive service an essential element of our data backup and business continuity solution. And in keeping with this, we continue to grow our managed IT services business by coupling the NOC's continuous BDR support with our unique fire drill approach to deliver a true disaster recovery solution.
I hope you found this article helpful in accelerating your BDR sales. Please watch out for our upcoming post about how MSPs can further mitigate risk of data loss and liability for themselves, should something go wrong at a client site.
Put your clients' disaster readiness to the test!
By Carlos Borges
By Ray Vrabel