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Business Continuity versus Disaster Recovery: It’s More than Terminology

March 5, 2013

by Dave Moorman

Are you confused about the difference between “business continuity” and “disaster recovery?” Have you heard the terms used interchangeably, or has your IT manager or provider used the term BC/DR (business continuity/disaster recovery)? These two activities go hand in hand, but they are not the same. Making matters more confusing, the definition of disaster recovery can vary based on the company; the industry; even the situation.

In future articles, I’ll dig more deeply into solutions for and approaches to business continuity and disaster recovery, but right now, let’s review the distinctions between the two. Knowing the difference will help you avoid exposing your firm to greater risk than its ownership considers acceptable.

Business continuity is almost universally defined as the plan for ensuring a business can perform critical functions—usually at a level tolerable to customers, vendors, regulators and other outside entities—no matter what life throws its way. Business continuity plans can come into play after a disaster or major disruption (and may be put into action before the event occurs), but they are much more than the mechanism by which a company gets through such an event.

The definition of critical functions varies from one firm to another, but they go well beyond getting servers up and running to incorporate maintaining power supplies and/or securing a location for employees to work. Business continuity plans also include personnel—which individuals or positions are required to ensure the business can operate at the desired level. Most companies develop their business continuity plans after making a thorough evaluation of business processes to determine which are essential to baseline operation.

Disaster recovery is a plan for recovering from a disaster at a level of downtime acceptable to the company ownership. Disasters come in all types and sizes, from tornadoes to virus outbreaks. As a result, most companies have multi-layered plans to address various scenarios.

IT continuity/recovery plans are components of both business continuity and business disaster recovery. A core recovery mechanism for both types of plans is data backup and recovery. However, firms that can tolerate little, if any, downtime also incorporate advanced recovery solutions such as failover servers (off-site, backup servers that can be activated in the event of an outage). Such solutions provide both business continuity and disaster recovery.

Firms that can survive week-long data outages—or that have very small budgets—may opt for offsite backups (with tests) but anticipate they (or their provider) may have to rebuild their environment completely, from scratch. These solutions enable disaster recovery, but they could place a firm’s business continuity in jeopardy. Stay tuned for more information on the finer nuances of these vital business operations.