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What is Disaster Recovery?

Paul Ladd
Paul Ladd
July 13, 2022
IT & Development

What is Disaster Recovery?

Large or small, your business is one disaster away from utter ruin. A fire, a flood, a grid outage, or any number of other disruptive events can render your critical functions non-functional. 

Disaster recovery software and disaster recovery services keep things running with minimal downtime. They can save you from certain doom.

Animated image of Spider-Man catching a young woman in the instant before she falls down an elevator shaft.
Like this, but with more servers and less spandex.

Disaster recovery is commonly confused with data backup. While equally essential, they operate at different scales. Backup is smaller-scale, focused on keeping copies of data in case of a loss. Disaster recovery is big-picture. Disaster recovery asks questions like, “If something destroys our entire data center, how do we keep our business running?” For a more detailed explanation of disaster recovery vs backup, check out this video:

Failure to Plan

Businesses without disaster recovery plans suffer serious consequences. This isn’t speculation; this is reality. For example:

  • Video game studio Facepunch lost all of its servers for European Union players when a fire destroyed their datacenter.
  • Messaging service WhatsApp lost millions of users to a competitor in 2014 when a router issue caused hours of downtime.
  • A power outage hit Delta Airlines, downing systems and grounding flights for several hours. They lost $150 million and even faced a congressional inquiry!
The business in that skyscraper lost Erin from engineering’s collection of hilarious mugs. Also, literally everything else.

Planning for Failure

Disaster recovery doesn’t start with the software. It starts with a plan. Far in advance of any disruptive event, your business needs to know exactly how it will respond. Guidelines for disaster recovery plans vary, but in general you’ll need to know:

Who’s responsible?

The plan should define clear responsibilities for the disaster recovery team. This team will implement the disaster recovery plan. They’ll also be in charge of keeping the plan relevant and ready to activate at a moment’s notice.

What could go wrong?

Think of events that could wreck your business continuity. Fires, power outages, hardware malfunction, and ransomware attacks are some of the most common dangers. Natural disasters like flooding, hurricanes, or earthquakes are possible threats as well. Performing a business impact analysis and a risk analysis can help structure this step.

What could we lose?

Document your business assets, including hardware, software, and data. You need to know which resources are necessary for business continuity and which ones are lower priority. Determine two key metrics:

Recovery Point Objective (RPO)

Your RPO describes how recent your data backups must be to recover effectively from data loss. If your RPO is 10 hours, then you’ll need backups every 10 hours or less to meet your RPO.

Recovery Time Objective (RTO)

Your RTO describes how long you can allow business continuity to be broken by a disaster. Think of this as the “deadline” for restarting business operations after a disruption.

What will we do?

Now comes the serious thinking. What specific actions will you take to prepare? Some businesses just need to store regular offsite backups and keep extra hardware on standby for installation. Others might need an always-on “hot” external site that can take over operations at the flip of a switch. Comprehensively detail the exact steps you’ll take to get back to normal from a disaster.

How much can we afford?

Ideally, your team would have an infinite budget for disaster recovery. Ideally, no price is too high for the security of your business continuity. Ideally, I’d be sipping a non-alcoholic strawberry mojito in a lush forest on Mars right now.

future society
Mars could look like this right now if the world had more respect for blog writers.

We can’t all get what we want, so you’ll need to set a budget and work within its constraints.

Does it actually work?

The perfect disaster recovery plan is useless if you haven’t tested it. Regular testing helps ensure quick and effective implementation. It must also be regularly evaluated. As your business grows and evolves, your disaster recovery plan needs to change with it.

Smaller businesses will have fewer resources and assets to track. You might need more detail specific to your business or industry. Regardless of size or domain, these six steps are the core of a solid disaster recovery plan.

In Case of Emergency

You don’t have to design disaster recovery systems from scratch. There are plenty of battle-tested disaster recovery strategies out there. The best plans will use a combination of these approaches.

Backup: Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep

Backing up data means periodically saving a copy of your data and storing it in a safe location. You might store your backups on physical media or use a SaaS cloud backup solution. These services usually have quick recovery tools to replace lost data.

Backup is a critical part of data safety, but it’s not a great disaster recovery solution on its own; disasters wipe out more than just data.

Cold Sites: Chill Out

A cold site is a secondary location where you can set up operations in case of a disaster. You might install basic hardware, but a cold site is generally left idle until needed. Keeping a copy of your backed-up data in the cold site can help speed up recovery. Keep an extra copy of your data somewhere else, though, just in case.

Hot Sites: Feel the Burn

A hot site is the live version of a cold site. It maintains an active connection to your main location, replicating your IT environment at any given moment. Hot sites are great for businesses that need an absolute minimum of downtime in the event of a disaster. Configured correctly, a hot site can take over your operations at the push of a button. With failover automation, your disaster recovery time might be measured in mere seconds.

Hot sites are more expensive than other methods. For those that can afford them, though, their resiliency is worthwhile.

Disaster Recovery As A Service: Do It For Me

Of course, you can always pay a vendor to handle everything. Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) products are similar to hot sites. They use their own infrastructure to handle your operations with no on-premises hardware required. You won’t have complete control over the systems, but you’ll be spared the need to configure and maintain a hot site.

Who Ya Gonna Call: Seriously, Pick a Company

There are plenty of solutions available for implementing your disaster recovery plan. Veeam, Unitrends, and Acronis offer tiered backup, data protection, and data recovery plans. These kinds of products replicate both data and virtual systems in the cloud. If you use virtual machines (VMs) for your IT workloads, you can back up and recover entire systems as VMs.

Products like Datto SIRIS and ConnectWise Recover are popular cloud disaster recovery options. These DRaaS service providers handle the load until your IT infrastructure is back online.


Disaster recovery is easy to ignore until it’s impossible to ignore. The fact that you’re even thinking about it means you’re on the right track. If you don’t have any backup or recovery plan in place, start right now by backing up your data. I don’t care if you back up to a cloud service or just copy your files onto a flash drive. Do it now. I’ll wait. Don’t keep reading until you do it.

Old man on the hill waiting
I can wait as long as it takes. I can wait until you’re a hundred years old. Don’t even think of lying to me.

Done? Great. Now you can start making your disaster recovery plan. To help find the right product for you, check out reviews of disaster recovery and DRaaS products:

Don’t wait until disaster strikes to think about recovery. The sooner you act, the more likely you are to be prepared when something bad happens.

this is fine meme
This dog is a bad role model.

About the Author

Paul Ladd
Paul Ladd
Paul is a Research Analyst for Trustradius with a degree in Technical Communications. A technology nerd with a writing problem, Paul spends their free time coding, cooking, and making increasingly terrible puns.

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