Business continuity vs. Disaster recovery: what’s the difference?

Business continuity vs. Disaster recovery: what’s the difference?


Disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) aren’t interchangeable terms.  DR is about answering questions like: Is my data safe?  Can I get it back in case of a failure?  BC, on the other hand, asks: How quickly can I get my business operating again, if something goes wrong?

This blog explores the importance of understanding this distinction.  First, let’s talk about the context for all of this: the cost of downtime.

According to research by the Aberdeen Group, downtime costs an average of £101,000 per hour.  That’s evened out across all sizes of business: small companies lose approximately £5,300 per hour; medium companies £133,000 per hour; and large enterprises a huge £424,000 for every hour of downtime.

So what happens when disaster does strike?  According to analysts at IDC, it takes an average of seven hours to resume normal operations after a data loss incident, with 18% of IT managers saying it takes 11-24 hours or even longer.  Multiply that by your downtime per hour costs and you’re looking at a humongous bill.

Business continuity: applying business reasoning to a technology problem

Business continuity is the planning you do to go through a crisis and come out the other end.   It’s about addressing the key people, resources and communications processes within your organisation, and preparing to orchestrate them in such a way as to respond and act positively to an unpredictable disaster scenario such as a network outage or freak weather event.  These are the same kinds of internal considerations that inform your choice of insurance coverage, so take the opportunity to be more active and less passive in the events that threaten your organisation.

Business continuity planning is a key aspect of understanding risk and building contingencies for any number of ‘what ifs’.  These would include, for instance, succession planning whereby you’ve thought ahead to who makes decisions if the business leader/s is unavailable.  A good business continuity plan will always be well-documented and routinely tested.

Disaster recovery: focusing on RTO and RPO and not much else

Disaster recovery is a subset of your business continuity strategy, addressing the technical environment, and how quickly your systems and processes cope/recover during and after the crisis.  Like any plan, the one for your disaster recovery needs objectives.  The two that matter more than any other are RTO and RPO.

RPO (Recovery Point Objective):

This is the maximum timespan of historical data you can afford to have lost since your last backup in the run up to a disaster event.  This gives you a good target for how frequently backups should take place.  If your RPO is 4 hours and you currently only do backups once a week (once every 168 hours) then you need to change this or the business cost will be an unacceptable loss of data.

RTO (Recovery Time Objective):

This is the maximum time period following a disaster event that you can be without your data and systems before the business gets into serious trouble.  This gives the target length of time for restoring data and systems to a working state, or the business cost will be an unacceptable period of downtime.

Once you’ve determined your RTO/RPO, and calculated how much that systems downtime and lost data will cost you, you have a business case for making the appropriate changes to your DR plan.

Why doing regular backups is no substitute for DR and BC planning

While Comtec focuses on DR, we also add significant value to the bigger BC picture.

With the growth of virtualisation and cloud services, most organisations now have the capability to recover their core systems and communications more quickly than ever before.  However, we regularly encounter complacency about DR and BC planning, with organisations’ misguided belief that ‘regular data backups’ is a solution to the challenge.  We support our customers to fully understand:

  • What exactly constitutes ‘backup’ of data – and at least as importantly, systems – with their chosen cloud service/application providers
  • How their providers’ backup and archiving policies impact the DR objectives they want to meet

These are critically important to plot into the BC plan. Few cloud providers offer comprehensive archiving functionality/accessibility and this compromises the ability to restore or access the most critical historic data when needed.  In our view, cloud provides high availability, not archive-ability.

Comtec regularly supports new customers in assessing their business continuity requirements,  benchmarked against best-practice with recommendations to evolve their BC/DR planning in a way that suits their budget and circumstances.  Please contact us to arrange your business continuity assessment.