The difference between disaster recovery, backup and business continuity

I sometimes see words like backup and disaster recovery used interchangeably, and sometimes in the wrong context. I see a customers asking for a DR solution when they need backup and DR. Some refer to it in the industry as BDR (Backup & Disaster Recovery).

So what’s the difference? Why should you care?

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery is about restoring critical IT functions quickly after a disaster. Disasters can be small from a critical server failing, to natural disasters like fire, flooding, tornado, hurricane to manmade disasters such as construction accidents, theft, sabotage, chemical spills, that may render your entire site unusable. The idea of DR is to restore critical IT services as quickly as possible after a disaster. Obviously this can encompass much more than just data recovery. A comprehensive DR plan might include alternate sites, spare hardware, etc.

Backup

Backup, on the other hand, can include the ability to perform a rapid recovery – yes Disaster Recovery, but it can also provide you access to the past history of your backed up data. That is a big distinction between backup and disaster recovery. There are some really great disaster recovery products that provide a very quick recovery to a very recent copy of a server in the case of disaster, but were never designed to provide data even 2 weeks ago, much less 6 months ago or even years ago.

In addition to restoring the most recent file, backup allows access to older, past versions of files. Older versions of files allow to recover from data loss that occurred in the past, but is noticed in the present. A cryptolocker ransomware type infection is a good example in that the latest backups may be of infected files and a restore is required from before the infection. It’s also very easy to bring up a monthly report in Word and select “Save” instead of “Save As”, overwriting the original document. Without keeping copies of past versions, we could potentially lose valuable data.

Some organizations are mandated by law to keep copies of their older data as well. Think medical providers who need to keep past patient data for years.

Backup data can be current data used for DR, but it’s also the past versions of data and being able to reproduce data as it was back to a certain point in time can be of enormous value.

Business Continuity

Business Continuity is generally defined as the process by which an organization can continue essential business functions despite a disaster. A comprehensive business continuity plan is far more than just restoring servers and data, and often includes things that are not IT related at all.

The business operation needs of every organization can be different. Some business are highly dependent on phone service to take calls from customers for instance, while some businesses require specialized equipment that is not easily replaced, or replaced quickly. Who are the critical employees and what functions do they perform? Where will employees work if the office is unavailable? There are many, many questions to ask in order to create an effective business continuity plan, and data recovery is only one of many areas of concern.

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