The Difference between Backup and Disaster Recovery

The tech industry is filled with jargon and terms that are at once distinct and yet involve overlapping principles. A perfect example would be software defined storage and storage virtualization. These are similar concepts and at the same time separate ideas. The same is true of disaster recovery and data backup. A disaster recovery plan does not exclusively entail backing up your data. Although, data backups are critical to a successful disaster recovery plan. So let’s take a moment to denote the difference between backup and disaster recovery.


The Difference between Backup and Disaster Recovery


Explaining the Terms


Data Backup: Data backup involves creating duplicate copies of your data for safe keeping. Whether recording your backups on tape, disk, or in the cloud, a backup strategy will ensure that if data is ever lost or corrupted, there is a backup on hand to fill in the missing pieces.

Disaster Recovery: is the act of devising and testing a documented plan to respond to a disaster that impacts the IT systems of a business. Largely, this involves establishing a priority asset list of every application in the environment and developing a plan to restore these systems in the most efficient manner within budgetary restraints.


The Differences between the Two


Clearly by examining these terms, the distinctions arise. When devising a disaster recovery strategy, reliable backups in whatever their form will play a crucial role in restoring IT systems, but they are merely a component of a larger plan. Relying on data backups to be a disaster recovery strategy in and of themselves will quickly show its flaws once the rubber hits the road.

As noted above, disaster recovery primarily involves establishing asset priorities in your environment, and to do that, a business must establish their Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO). 

RTO: This term refers to the amount of time a business can survive with its systems operational. This will be different for every business and will thus determine the different measures a business must take to protect themselves in the face of disaster. An RTO of six hours is going to yield a much different strategy compared to a business with an RTO of a month.

RPO: The RPO of a business is very closely related to the business’s backup strategy. It refers to the amount of time the business can realistically lose between your current data state and your latest backup. It is impossible to create a backup that is exactly the same as the current data in use. Whether the snapshot was taken yesterday or five seconds ago, it is entirely possible the state of the data in question has changed, and the backup no longer serves as a perfect representation of all the business data accrued up to that point. The question RPO asks is, how recent do your backups need to be? For some businesses, it could be a day others may require down to the minute data. The brevity of your RPO will dictate how you approach your backup strategy. A business with an RPO of one minute must make a backup of their environment or application every single minute of the day to meet their needs.


Quick List of Disaster Recovery Concerns

To further illustrate the differences between disaster recovery and data backup, here’s a quick list of some of the considerations, including data backup, that need to be made for any disaster recovery strategy. Notice how data backup really only concerns a handful of these points.

  • RTO & RPO
  • Asset and Application Priority
  • Data backup medium (disk, tape, or cloud)
  • Data backup strategy
  • Off-site data storage facilities
  • Business site failover locations
  • Emergency Power Systems
  • How to notify the business and customers
  • IT personnel responsibilities
  • Protecting employees from harm
  • Equipment needs for recovery process
  • Communication methods
  • Testing procedures


Protecting Your Business from Disaster

All at once, we think too big and too small when we hear the term disaster. Our mind wants to go to hurricanes, earthquakes, and fire and brimstone, or we think of some slipup in which crucial files are deleted. The former has a low probability of occurring, and the latter can be solved with backups. This dynamic can lead to complacency from businesses, but the stakes are too high to not be prepared. There are numerous ways in which the business can face a disaster, and data backups simply aren’t enough.


For Further Reading

5 Must Haves in a Data Backup Strategy

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