RTO & RPO: Meaning and Differences

An exploration of the differences between RTO and RPO and how they relate to disaster recovery. Also, find out some tips to improve them

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Disasters are inevitable for every business. Whether man-made or natural, disasters could result in a loss of revenue. That’s why businesses need to deploy disaster recovery plans to mitigate the negative effects of any disasters that should occur.

Businesses first need to assess what their recovery objectives are. Then, they need to determine their Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) and Recovery Period Objectives (RPO) to find disaster recovery strategies that are suitable and cost-effective. So, let’s explore what that means.

What Does RTO and RPO Mean?

Disaster recovery teams use Recovery Time Objectives to calculate how long it would take a business’s IT infrastructure to become fully operational following a disaster.

For example, a business could set a Recovery Time Objective of 1 hour for an application that the entire staff uses. This means that the IT team needs to bring the application back online within 1 hour for the business to achieve its Recovery Time Objective.

Additionally, the Recovery Time Objective involves all IT aspects of the business. These include on-site workstations and servers, software on the workstations, and also employees’ access to the business’s databases.

On the other hand, Recovery Point Objectives only look at data. RPO is a metric of how much time can elapse between a business’s last data backup and a disaster. It is the maximum time data can be lost before a business starts losing revenue. For example, if a business does a data-backup every 2 hours, the business would only lose 2 hours of data if disaster struck.

Furthermore, it is the perfect metric for determining when a business should back up its data because certain applications require more uptime than others.

The Differences Between RTO and RPO

Recovery Time Objectives focus on the entire IT infrastructure of a business, whereas Recovery Point Objectives are concerned with only data. Both are relevant to disaster recovery, but they differ in which areas they are relevant to.

For instance, the Recovery Time Objective has to include client databases, server access, and many other parts of IT. Consequently, it is usually a difficult objective for IT teams to accomplish.

RPO is more granular in the fact that it only has to include data-backup times. It is simpler for disaster recovery teams to assess when an application needs a data-backup and how much data could be lost during a disaster.

Given that Recovery Time Objectives involve the entire business, it is more expensive to attain than RPOs. Also, it is much easier to automate data-backups to meet RPOs. This means that businesses do not need to manually follow processes to maintain an RPO.

Though, it is difficult to maintain Recovery Time Objectives through automation. This is because disaster recovery teams cannot predict which applications might fail or which server will crash. So, downtime has to be taken on a case by case basis.

However, disaster recovery teams could deploy strategies like an off-site virtualization environment. This stores business data on a secondary site and allows employees to continue their work.

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RTO And RPO In Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery begins with a Business Impact Analysis. It is a detailed look at which aspects of the business are critical for business continuity. From this analysis, disaster recovery teams create Recovery Time Objectives and Recovery Point Objectives for these critical aspects. If you are looking for other information about Disaster Recovery, check out our dedicated guide.

Also, during disaster recovery, teams consider a business’s IT budget to determine which disaster recovery strategies they can afford to reach their RTOs and RPOs.

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) needs to answer specific recovery questions. For example, what is a good recovery time objective? There are no standard answers to good recovery time and period objectives. It depends on the type of disaster and also the maximum tolerable period of disruption for the business.

To illustrate, an earthquake that destroys a primary work site would have a longer recovery time than a hard disk failure in a physical server. These possibilities need to be outlined in the disaster recovery plan and the objectives need to be set for critical business processes as well as the different kinds of disasters.

Businesses should also avoid investing too much in lowering their RTO and RPO. If a business only needs a recovery time of 2 hours, it would not be cost-effective for a business to attempt lowering it to 1 hour. Similarly, a physical store that does not have many daily transactions would not need a near-zero backup solution. They would only need to backup client data every 24 hours.

Tips To Improve Your RTO and RPO

Recovery Point Objective and Recovery Time Objective should never be fixed metrics. Businesses need to constantly test and refine their disaster recovery plans to obtain more accurate and realistic recovery objectives.

A business should check its backup solution. Whether it is a managed service or in-house, disaster recovery teams need to ensure that the solution can meet the RPO. A business should aim to employ a backup solution that is cost-effective and relevant to the business’s operations.

Disaster recovery teams should also refine their processes. They could run simulated data recoveries on separate hardware to determine the actual recovery time for backups. For example, a backup might take 30 minutes to complete, but the restoration might take longer due to hardware failure or the need to install software after a disaster.

More importantly, IT teams need to store backups in more than one location. This lowers the risk of large data losses. They should keep at least three copies of data in two separate locations.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Recovery Time and Period Objectives are vital for any disaster recovery plan. This is because they quantify the processes needed for business continuity.

It informs managers, IT teams, and other employees how much downtime is acceptable to minimize or eliminate revenue losses. Not to mention, improving RTO and RPO is all about finding the most cost-effective solutions to different disasters.

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