RPO and RTO: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to disaster recovery, two critical metrics for organizations are the recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO), which address the amount of data loss and the time it takes to recover data, respectively. Having a clear awareness of your level of risk tolerance with these issues helps ensure your backup and recovery strategy is in alignment with your business objectives.

Let’s explore RPO and RTO and the critical role they play in your org’s disaster recovery plan.

What is RPO?

A recovery point objective (RPO) is the maximum amount of data loss that would be acceptable to an organization. Data loss tolerance is often measured in terms of time.

Organizations processing sensitive data, such as those in the financial, government, or healthcare sectors, may have to consider regulatory requirements when setting their RPOs. Business requirements may also affect RPOs. For example, payment gateways, email servers, and stock databases may have an RPO of a minute or less. In contrast, the database for the company’s consumer-facing blog may have a 24-hour RPO.

What is RTO?

A recovery time objective (RTO) is the maximum length of time a computer, system, network, or application can be down following a failure. An RTO is most often measured in seconds, minutes, hours, or days.

An email server may have an RTO of up to four hours, as other email servers will usually retry delivery if a server is offline for a short time. In contrast, a bank handling a high volume of transactions might set an RTO of just a few seconds for any financial applications.

RTOs are set based on the application and its impact on the business. Data loss and outages affect revenue generation, and quantifying the impact of an outage is a key factor in determining RTOs and how to configure the environment to minimize recovery times.

What is the Difference Between RPO and RTO?

Both RPO and RTO are expressed as time periods. RPOs consider an organization’s data loss tolerance and are backward-looking, as they are measured in how old the recovered data should be. RTOs impact any outage or disruption would have on the business’ ability to generate revenue and are forward-looking since they measure future increments of time in the event of a failure.

Defining an RPO helps you decide on backup frequencies. For example, a zero RPO would require frequent snapshots or incremental backups. Longer tolerances allow for less frequent backups and, therefore, lower storage costs.

The RTO helps determine the architecture of your systems. If some recovery time is acceptable, a single system recovered from an image is an option. When the desired RTO is zero or close to it, investing in redundancy, load balancing and failover options becomes necessary.

Setting an appropriate RTO and RPO is especially important for enterprise organizations, as any data outages or disruptions can have direct impacts on sales and brand reputation and can negatively affect customer trust and retention.

The Importance of RPO and RTO in Disaster Recovery

Recovery objectives are key metrics for building a disaster recovery strategy. They help quantify the level of data loss or disruption you’re willing to accept, so you can formulate a cost-effective and reliable backup and recovery system.

Stale backups or backups that take too long to restore are of little use to your organization. Knowing you can restore normal operations within a reasonable time offers more peace of mind.

Understanding the difference between RPO vs. RTO and the role each metric plays in formulating your disaster recovery plan is critical. Knowing how much, if any, data loss is acceptable and how long you can tolerate a service being unavailable helps inform your decision-making when it comes to backup solutions and your recovery workflow.

How do You Calculate a Recovery Point Objective?

To calculate an RPO, consider the following:

  • Data change rate frequencies: RPO should, at a minimum, match the frequency with which your data changes. This ensures the delta between new data and backup data is minimal, reducing the risk of loss
  • Align RPOs with Business Continuity Plans (BCPs): Individual business processes may have different RPOs, depending on the criticality of their data. Some applications require an always-on approach to business continuity, while others are more tolerant to data loss
  • Consider industry standards: Best practices vary between industries, but consider the following rules of thumb for RPOs:
    • 0 to 1 hour: The shortest time frame for business-critical workloads and data that’s high volume, dynamic or difficult to recreate
    • 1 to 4 hours: For applications deemed semi-critical, where a small amount of data loss is acceptable
    • 4 to 12 hours: For data that updates infrequently (e.g. daily), so occasional snapshots are acceptable
    • 13 to 24 hours: The longest RPO that’s still commonly seen for infrequently updated data that’s important but not considered critical

 

Document the decision-making process. Once the RPOs are decided, have them approved by the IT department and stakeholders.

Review the RPOs regularly to ensure they’re still relevant and appropriate. Adjust them if required to provide maximum protection for your data.

Calculation of Risk

RPO and RTO are both calculations of risk, providing measurements for how much data a business can lose and how long it can tolerate being offline after an incident. These recovery objectives may be measured in seconds, hours, minutes, or days, depending on the business process. Quantifying risk is a complex process that must consider the application, dataset, and company objectives.

All stakeholders must have the opportunity to give input into their risk tolerance for data loss and downtime. If a single IT organization is servicing the business and is responsible for implementing, managing, and monitoring any backup and recovery solution, that solution must serve the needs of the most critical business processes.

How to Define RTO and RPO Values for Your Applications

To define your organization’s RTO, consider:

  • The cost of an outage per minute, hour, or day
  • Any existing recovery SLAs in place with customers
  • Which applications are the highest priority
  • The ideal order in which critical applications should be recovered

To define your RPOs, consider:

  • Whether data loss is acceptable in any scenario
  • The impact of data loss on your brand
  • Any legal implications
  • Any financial implications

A trickier, but important factor to consider when developing a strategy is what negative impact data loss or downtime can have on your brand image. This can often be hard to quantify to dollar amount, but significant downtime or data loss can lead to lack of trust for customers.

Weigh the above issues against the cost of data transfer, storage, and recovery solutions to find a strategy that best suits your needs.

Evaluate each application or business process independently. Seek input from stakeholders throughout this part of the process and err on the side of faster recovery and limiting data loss if uncertain.

Best Practices for Optimizing RPO and RTO 

To optimize RPO and RTO, apply the following best practices:

Frequent Backups

To achieve environments with incredibly low RPOs, Veeam’s Continuous Data Protection technology and other application-aware backups or incremental backups can be utilized for frequent snapshots. For less critical applications, set an appropriate backup frequency. Automate the backup process, including testing the integrity of the copy, for peace of mind.

Frequent full backups carry a significant overhead in terms of storage costs. Incremental backups reduce the cost by recording what changed between each backup.

Keep multiple backups on different types of media. Ideally, you should also have an immutable off-site backup to protect against data loss from malware or ransomware attacks.

Redundancy and Failover

Minimize downtime with redundancy and failover for critical services. This practice isn’t a substitute for backups, but it can protect against application failures or outages that would otherwise interrupt service.

Using certain RAID arrays can offer a layer of redundancy, which can reduce the risk of data loss and allows you to respond to hardware failures. Again, this is simply an extra layer of protection and not a replacement for backups in your business continuity plan.

Where data and workloads are replicated across redundant cloud services, there’s still a risk of data corruption or loss, for example through ransomware. Veeam’s Continuous Data Protection technology is one tool that can mitigate the risk of data loss on mission-critical virtual machines.

Testing & Validation

Evaluating RPO vs. RTO priorities and setting objectives is just the beginning. To have confidence in your organization’s ability to meet those objectives, any backup and recovery practices must be tested regularly.

There are many best practices for testing recovery objectives, but the most important practice is to actually perform those tests. Investing in the resources and time required to complete the testing process is essential. Also keep in mind that adequate testing can require storage, compute, networking, and time.

Consider the following when planning recovery tests:

  • The best testing schedule to meet SLA requirements
  • The time required to recover the data or workload to an operational state
  • Storage requirements for data recovery
  • Storage and compute requirements for critical workloads
  • Automation and orchestration tools to ensure tests can be customized and performed without errors

Priority Based Recovery

Consider which workloads are mission critical and prioritize these when developing a recovery strategy. Running critical applications in virtual machines can help hasten the recovery process. For example, recovering customer data or financial records would be a higher priority than restoring a database of internal training materials.

Automation

Automation allows backups to be made without human intervention. Scheduled backups reduce the risk of data loss. Modern data protection tools support automated testing and orchestration, giving peace of mind that backups are error-free and recoverable.

Don’t treat having automatic backups as a chance to get complacent. Review your backup processes regularly to confirm they cover all business-critical data.

Offsite Storage

The 3-2-1 rule of backups dictates:

  • There should be three copies of the data
  • On at least two different media
  • With one copy being off-site

This ensures the data is protected not only against accidental deletion or corruption but also against loss through catastrophic events, such as fires or floods, which could destroy an on-site copy held on removable or NAS storage.

Ongoing Monitoring and Analytics

With any IT solution, monitoring and analytics offer insight into the performance of your infrastructure. For backup and recovery solutions, there are many metrics that can be monitored:

  • Testing backups to ensure they’re completed without errors
  • Infrastructure monitoring to identify issues that could affect backup success
  • Analysis of usage trends to prevent future issues with backup storage capacity

For more information on improving business continuity, see our detailed recovery objectives best practices guide.

Enhance Your Disaster Recovery Strategy With Veeam

RPO and RTO are both essential measures when defining a backup and recovery strategy. Consider your tolerances for data loss (RPO) and downtime (RTO) when balancing your budget and available resources.

Always keep best practices in mind and engage with stakeholders across the organization to ensure your disaster recovery strategy meets business needs. Automating the process of taking frequent backups and testing them is essential. It’s also useful to take other precautions, such as having redundancy for mission-critical applications. Consider Veeam’s data protection solutions, including ones tailored to the needs of regulated industries.

Contact Veeam today to schedule a consultation or try a demo of Veeam’s data protection platform.

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