What is a Disaster Recovery Plan? How to Use RTO and RPO to Protect your Business

If you’re in the world of tech, you will inevitably run into a work-related disaster now and then. These setbacks come in many forms such as cyber-attacks, theft, leaks, and corruption. And every business must be ready to face these things and plan for them.

Sir Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. If you don’t understand the importance of planning for unfortunate events, then you’ll probably lose data and cause harm.

So just assume that data loss is a reality and create a disaster recovery plan accordingly to protect yourself.

What is a Disaster Recovery Plan?

A disaster recovery plan is a step-by-step procedure that describes how quickly a business can function smoothly after an adverse event.

The objective of such a plan is to restore infrastructure and backup lost data in time so that the functioning of the business is smooth even when a crisis occurs.

If you need to create a disaster recovery plan, there are two major tools you should use: RTO, or Recovery Time Objective and RPO or Recovery Point Objective. These are also important concepts to understand if you’re interviewing for a job in tech.

So let’s understand RTO and RPO in more detail.

What is a Recovery Time Objective, or RTO?

A Recovery Time Objective is a measurement or tool which determines how much time a certain IT infrastructure can be down without causing any significant damage to the business. RTO measures how fast you can recover your infrastructure when struck by a disaster.

Infrastructure can be quite complete and you might be using lots of servers and applications that enable your site or business to function smoothly.

Some applications can be down for days and might not impact operations significantly. But others can result in severe loss if they lose function even for a few hours or minutes.

The scope of RTO depends on two factors:

  1. If all the servers are up and running, or
  2. If all the servers are down.

In between these two extremes is what we call “unplanned downtime”.

You can determine your RTO based on the question “How long can your business survive without a specific process once the damage has been discovered?”. Again, this answer can vary from days or hours to even minutes.

What is a Recovery Point Objective, or RPO?

A Recovery Point Objectives is the second tool you’ll use to recover after a disaster which helps you manage continuity. Although it may sound a lot like RTO, it specifically measures the amount of data that can be lost before significant harm occurs.

We can express RTO as a function of time, so it describes the amount of time that might pass during a disaster before any sensitive data is lost.

RPO brings the concept of data back into the picture. The more frequently data is recovered, the smaller the chance of data loss, which helps make a company immune to disasters.

Businesses schedule data backups depending on their specific needs. For example, the health care sector deals with real-time data which is highly sensitive, so data backup should be more frequent as compared to, for example, retail institutions.

How to Use RTO to Prepare for a Crisis

RTO helps determine the maximum downtime you or your company can handle while maintaining business continuity.

This metric also takes into account what measures the IT team takes to restore your applications and their data. It helps you decide which mechanism to restore depending on how long it takes to handle the disaster.

RTO also helps categorize applications by priority and potential business loss they might incur so you can manage your resources accordingly. So we can say that, besides calculating the amount of time you’d need to restore, RTO also includes measures to remove or recover from unforeseen circumstances.

RTO includes more than just the amount of time you need to recover from a disaster. It should also include the steps you’ll need to take to mitigate or recover from various disasters. And so this plan needs to contain proper testing methods for each measures.

How to Calculate RTO

So how do you calculate your RTO? Lots of factors come into play.

You need to take into account any compliance schemes that pertain to data loss, disaster recovery, and management. You also needs to budget for disaster recovery.

For example, let’s say we created a disaster recovery plan for a cloud-based business and formulated the RTO to be two days. This means that when a crisis occurs (like a cyber attack, earthquakes, or some other disaster), the business can run smoothly without its entire infrastructure for two days.

But if the infrastructure and data are not restored in two days, it is likely to disrupt the smooth functioning of the business.

How to Use RPO to Prepare for a Crisis

RPO measures the amount of data an application can lose without hampering the functioning of the business.

If we’re talking about this from a time frame standpoint, it measures the time required to back up all an application’s data when a disaster happens so that it doesn’t impact the functioning of the business.

When determining the RPO, you need to take data quality into account. This organizes the data by priority or sensitivity and then determines the time that the business can endure with data loss.

For example ,  losing highly sensitive data like financial statements or patient data in a hospital creates a major impact on the daily functioning of the company. In these cases, the RPO should be low enough that a crisis won’t dramatically impact the company’s progress.

Various other factors can play a crucial role in determining RPO just like RTO, such as what data storage mechanisms you have available (physical storage or cloud-based storage ), what compliance schemes for data recovery and loss you have in place, and the cost of implementing disaster recovery solutions.

The Differences between RTO and RPO

RTO is totally focused on time. It is the most important parameter to consider when you’re calculating RTO. How much time can you or the company survive before the damage caused becomes irreversible?

On the other hand, the prime focus of RPO is data. How much data can a company lose before significant harm occurs?

It’s quite expensive to implement RTO as it takes into consideration the whole IT infrastructure. On the other hand, it’s less expensive to set up RPO’s as its prime focus is data recovery.

It can be hard to determine how much time you’d need to restore your whole IT operations while implementing RTO. After all, it takes into account a lot of business parameters.

But when we talk about RPO, the time required to restore your application will be less, because you can determine that based on the volume and variety of data that you need to back up.

Also, it’s quite complex to implement RTO because of the many different parameters and variables you’re dealing with. But implementing RPO is not that challenging – data backup is simple to handle and can happen autonomously with the help of a data backup system.

The objective of RTO is to give you ample time so that you can restore regular activity after you experience a crisis. The time should be just enough so that the smooth functioning of your servers and applications continues.

On the other hand, the objective of RPO is to back up the data and minimize the data loss to ensure that no sensitive data are lost.


To efficiently tackle a crisis, you need to know your system’s strengths and limitations. This helps you draw up your disaster recovery plan.

Each individual and business has different needs, based on how they operate, the tools they have to handle a disaster, or the type of sector they’re in. So your disaster recovery plan won’t look exactly like anyone else’s.

RPO and RTO are parameters that help you determine the limitations of your site or business when disaster strikes. These tools go hand in hand when you’re formulating a strategy to tackle a crisis.

These two tools also give you significant information that will help you in your disaster recovery so you can thrive even in challenging times. So make sure to improve your disaster recover plan along with your RTO and RPO metrics to safeguard against any crisis that may come your way.

Posted by Contributor