PRIMER: How are Disaster Recovery and Backups Different?

So, you are working through your go-forward IT strategy and need to make sure that you have things covered should something go wrong. Pretty quickly, you notice that the terms “Backup” and “Disaster Recovery” are quite often being used interchangeably. But, the truth is, they are different. Related, yes, but different.

How are disaster recovery and backups different?


Backup really can be defined very simply. Backup is just a copy of your files on another disk (or tape, cloud, etc.). In fact, if you copied each and every file to a DVD (and we are not sure why you would do that), that would be a backup. Having a full backup that is up-to-date means that when you lose a few files or a whole drive or more, you can take the time it takes to copy those files back once your systems are ready to rock. But, it can be a time-consuming disruption. You will likely need to setup a new server(s), re-install the OS, and reinstall all the applications, etc. There are two ways to backup your systems:

  • Onsite Backup: This is when you backup locally to some kind of physical storage option. These solutions are capable of imaging servers and storing data locally so you can recover from incidents.
  • Offsite Backup: This is when you backup your data to an entirely different location. This, of course, helps protects you in the case of an entire geographic location being affected by a disruption. Also, often organizations need offsite backup to be in line with compliances such as those rules defined by Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, FISMA, NASD and NYSE, etc.

Disaster Recovery

So, what is Disaster Recovery? Disaster recovery is beyond backup. The big benefit of disaster recovery is that rather than taking what may be days or months to recover for an unplanned outage, Disaster Recovery will greatly shorten that time.

With Disaster Recovery, a complete image of your disk drives and servers are mirrored. This is sometimes referred to as a “bare-metal” backup, meaning the backup isn’t just the files, but the OS and everything. For example, with AISN’s Disaster Recovery service, we replicate the “bare-metal” backup image to another geographic site so in the event of a disaster in one geographic location, it can be restored from an entirely different geographic location. This gives you added protection and the image(s) allows you to restore systems more quickly – there is no need to reinstall an OS and copying files. The amount of time it takes to actually continue operations after a disaster also depends on whether you choose “Hot Site” or “Cold Site.” So what is the difference?

  • “Hot Site”: Environments are available at a moments notice. So, in the case of an outage, all data processing can quickly be moved to the “Hot Site” and operations continue.
  • “Cold Site”: Critical applications are available at a secondary location. This is similar but is supplied as basic office space, but with “Cold Site” the customer provides and installs all the equipment needed to continue operations. It is less expensive but will take longer for full operations to continue.

So, that’s really all there is to it from a high level. You really need to understand what your goals and objectives are. Do you need systems available in minutes, hours or would days be just fine? Is backup just fine, or do you need Disaster Recovery? And what level of Disaster Recovery do you need? There are lots to consider, but remember, we are always here to help you think through your IT plans.

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