When disaster strikes, every minute matters. It’s true at home (which is why you probably read that sentence in All State Guy’s voice). And it’s just as true for your business.
No matter what you do, you couldn’t do it effectively if all or part of your IT infrastructure suddenly disappeared.
Whether through a natural disaster (fire, flood, hurricane) or more nefarious means (a ransomware or cyber threat), there’s a nontrivial chance that your business will face this scenario. If you don’t have a plan for restoring operations, you could face catastrophic consequences — even the loss of the business.
Because every moment matters, businesses prepare themselves through business continuity and disaster recovery planning. But what exactly are these disciplines, and what’s the difference between the two?
- Definitions and the differences between the two
- Why you need one or the other (or both)
- Key elements of a comprehensive plan
- Why partnering with a professional services provider is the smart choice
Let’s get started by defining both terms.
What is Business Continuity
Business continuity develops a strategy to ensure essential business functions continue during unexpected disruptions. The goal of business continuity planning is to minimize the impact of a disruption on the organization and its customers by using redundant and resilient technologies that can be automated or implemented quickly in response to a crisis.
In simpler terms, it keeps the business running during difficult times, like a physical disaster or technological failure.
What is Disaster Recovery
Disaster recovery is related but distinct: with disaster recovery planning (or DR planning), the focus is on the organization’s ability to fully recover from a disruptive event. It’s less about the immediate return to barebones operations and more about restoring everything (with a focus on IT systems, application, and data) as efficiently and thoroughly as possible.
To put it another way: disaster recovery is about returning everything to a pre-disaster state, with no gaps in data or missing services.
Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery: Key Differences
At a 30,000-foot view, the difference looks like this.
- Business continuity answers the question “how can my business survive and continue to operate at a basic level?”
- Disaster recovery deals with “how (and how quickly) can we get back to normal operations?”
Admittedly there’s still some overlap here. So let’s dive deeper into the differences in five key areas.
Definition and Focus
Business continuity would prioritize getting your online storefront back up and reinstating the bare minimum for selling to or serving customers. Disaster recovery prioritizes restoring backend systems to full functionality, so you don’t have to stay at the bare minimum for long.
Business continuity determines how you’ll open back up tomorrow (or in the next hour, or even minute). Disaster recovery determines how you’ll get back to full speed (often over days, weeks, or months).
Business continuity usually focuses on short-term disruptions: power outages, localized equipment failures, and so forth. On the other hand, disaster recovery is focused on longer-term disruptions, such as natural disasters or widespread infrastructure loss, that can take weeks or even months to recover from.
These certainly can take your business offline, and depending on what your business does, going offline may not be an option. If you’re a fast-food restaurant, a power outage simply means closing the restaurant for an hour or two. If you’re a hospital or a fintech business, a power outage (with no business continuity plan in place) could be deadly or financially disastrous.
Business continuity is focused on keeping critical operations running, while disaster recovery is focused on restoring normal (or full or optimal) operations.
This is why you might set up a critical information system (one that your business can’t function without) using high availability redundancies and failover with a low recovery time objective (RTO). Business continuity demands that should that server drop into a crater, you have to have something else that can handle these critical business functions with minimal disruption.
On the other hand, certain types of business data (especially archived data) might be kept in cloud deep storage, which is much cheaper. You won’t be able to restore this data anywhere near as quickly (much longer RTO), but you don’t necessarily need to. Full disaster recovery means complete access to everything, as if the disaster never happened. But it doesn’t have to happen instantly.
Business continuity planning usually begins with a risk assessment: which systems and services are vital to core business function, and what are the risks if they went down? It’s all about mitigating the impact of short-term risks by having a plan in place to resume operations.
Disaster recovery is focused on mitigating the impact of long-term risks, such as natural disasters or cyberattacks. This is an entirely different risk profile: not having a plan can be just as dangerous, but the risks play out more slowly.
Business continuity plans are tested more frequently, often quarterly or annually, to ensure that critical operations can be maintained. These plans are narrower in scope and thus somewhat easier to test. What’s more, failure here could lead to the loss of the business, so some will prioritize business continuity testing over DR testing.
Disaster recovery plans are tested less frequently, often bi-annual or tri-annual, to ensure that systems and processes can be restored.
Do You Need Both?
In almost every business, the answer is yes: you need both, in some shape or form.
Hopefully we’ve shown you how the two are different enough that both matter because they focus on different, but equally vital, aspects of your business.
What each will look like depends on what you do and:
- How bad it would be if you couldn’t do it for a few minutes, or an hour, or a day (business continuity)
- How sensitive your business is to performance disruptions, or how long you can get by on less (disaster recovery)
Key Elements of a Comprehensive Plan
As you craft a comprehensive plan for disaster recovery and business continuity, include these five elements.
Risk assessment is the process of identifying what risks exist should your business face a disruption. It’s the key first component because it defines what you’re providing continuity and recovery for.
In general, a risk assessment will include at least these elements:
- Identifying potential threats
- Assessing the likelihood and impact of those threats
- Prioritizing risks based on their potential impact
Common threats include natural disasters, cyberattacks, and human error. Your industry, business type, and physical geography can all affect which threats you choose to focus on.
Business Impact Analysis
Once you understand the risks, you’ll need to evaluate the potential outcomes and effects on your business for each risk or scenario.
Each type of disruptive situation will have different potential impacts, which won’t be the same across industries and businesses. That hour-long power outage has minimal impact on the coffee shop around the corner; it probably matters quite a bit more where you work.
Conducting a business impact analysis includes mapping out critical business processes and systems. Each disruption in your risk assessment should be evaluated against these processes and systems.
Here are a few examples of potential business impacts:
- Lost revenue (can’t do business or sell products)
- Reputational damage (failed to secure customer data)
- Regulatory non-compliance (failing to meet SLAs or protect data)
Next up is your framework and schedule for testing the plan. It doesn’t matter how much money and effort you spend building a business continuity and disaster recovery plan if that plan fails in your hour of need. That’s why testing your plans is vital: you need to know, at regular intervals, that you’re protected in case of disaster.
There are multiple types of plan testing, including tabletop exercises (which test the human and process sides of your plan), simulations, and full-scale tests.
By testing, you could identify gaps in the plan or places where your required response times are not met.
When an adverse event occurs, there’s usually a good dose of chaos and panic occurring simultaneously. You can’t rely on everyone to remember exactly what to do; instead, you need a clear and accessible communication plan.
Identify your key stakeholders, define and establish communication channels (ones that the disaster would not compromise), and build out messaging templates ahead of time so you can get your message out faster and clearer.
Last, it’s vital to have a dedicated team responsible for managing and executing the business continuity and disaster recovery plan. Key roles should be defined and documented, with backups for each. At a minimum, you’ll need:
- Plan coordinator
- IT lead
- Communication lead
Partner with Flagship Solutions Group for Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
Forming a comprehensive business continuity and disaster recovery plan is a labor-intensive, specialized process: it requires a detailed understanding of your business and its processes, but it also requires unique knowledge and experience you may not have on your team. If you don’t have a comprehensive plan in place yet, now’s the time to start.
Need reliable business continuity and disaster recovery solutions for your IT systems? Contact Flagship Solutions Group, a Datra Storage Corporation technology company, today to learn more about our customized services and how we can help you keep your business running smoothly in the face of unexpected disruptions.