The difference between disaster recovery and business continuity

By Howard M. Cohen, Contributor

The terms business continuity and disaster recovery are often mistakenly used interchangeably. And while cloud computing services can be used to address both business continuity and disaster recovery, you must have a fundamental understanding of the differences to do effective planning.

Disaster recovery (DR) refers to having the ability to restore the data and applications that run your business should your data center, servers, or other infrastructure get damaged or destroyed. One important DR consideration is how quickly data and applications can be recovered and restored. Business continuity (BC) planning refers to a strategy that lets a business operate with minimal or no downtime or service outage.

The design of both solutions must balance a company’s tolerance for time to restore full function against the budget available to fund protection. In almost all cases, utilizing an externally managed service to accomplish DR or BC will result in lower costs and usually higher performance – less waiting time at a lower cost.

Make data protection your no. 1 concern

Whichever strategy you pursue, protecting your company’s data is critical. If your company lost some or all of its data, you’d likely be unable to continue operations. You wouldn’t know what to bill to your customers, what they already owe you, and what you owe vendors and service providers. Inventory information, manufacturing processes, contractual obligations, and competitive intelligence would all be gone.

The question isn’t whether or not to implement DR or BC solutions, but rather how to balance the two. Depending upon the transaction velocity of your business, you may want to focus on one more than the other. But there are other factors affecting your decision as to how much protection and how much loss you can afford.

Disaster recovery plans are developed so that everyone knows exactly what to do to help the business recover in the aftermath of a major catastrophic event. Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and acts of war have all caused big companies to either activate their DR plans or deeply regret not having one. IT elements include having recent off-site stored backups of all data available for restoration once a new data center has been established. The more recent the backups, the better, meaning that the planning, scheduling, and rotation of data to offsite facilities is an integral part of a good DR plan.

Disasters happen. And when they do, they can destroy or incapacitate entire buildings, towns, and cities. This is where the concept of redundancy becomes critical. You may backup your data locally, and should a server or storage device fail, you simply replace it and restore the local copy of your data. But when a major outage hits your building, your neighborhood, perhaps even your entire city or region, you’ll want to be sure company data is replicated far away in a remote data center, perhaps more than one, and is available for restoration as soon as you’ve secured a new physical location from which to operate.

Business continuity planning is much more granular. Even brief lapses in operation can threaten an enterprise’s existence. Highly transactional environments almost always require a BC plan.

BC measures need to be put into place at multiple levels. For example, redundant servers, redundant storage, even redundant data centers may be required to provide enough availability to support true continuity of the business. Anything that could fail must be backstopped. Even personnel and physical premises! Alternate personnel need to be ready to step in, and substitute locations must be designated where employees can work should a calamity befall the operation. There is clearly overlap here with DR.

You can see why people try to use these terms interchangeably. True continuity of business operations requires high availability, which is the lowest level of fault tolerance, and the ability to recover from a disaster almost instantly.

Beyond replicating your valuable data, if your company can’t afford to stop doing business, you’ll want to replicate your entire infrastructure. When an outage or disaster occurs, your network “fails over” to the redundant data center and your people continue working as if nothing has happened. Users unable to access the company’s network can connect to the secondary data center easily from wherever they can securely access the internet.

Need for speed vs. budget

You may be unsure of just how much you need to invest to achieve the level of resilience appropriate for your business. You don’t want to overspend, but you don’t want to under protect either. Begin your process by assessing the value of each critical data asset, and create a specific plan for each. Compare the approximate cost of each plan against the value of the asset to establish an acceptable ratio. From there, the rest of the process is one of logistics.

About the Author: Power More