A recovery time objective (RTO) is a great tool for disaster recovery planning. It is most useful in helping you understand the kind of recovery strategies and technologies you need in place to successfully recover from a disaster.
Put simply, RTO is a measurement of your tolerance for downtime and once you know what that tolerance is, you’re in better position to plan your recovery. Note that RTO is not really useful in helping you recover data or set up backup schedules. Instead, it prepares you to get your systems up and running before you start hemorrhaging money, reputation, and so on. If you’re looking for a tool to help with data loss and backups, check out recovery point objectives (RPO).
So how does it work?
Just What Is RTO Anyway?
When a disaster strikes, it takes one or more of your systems down. And unless you have a mirrored, geographically diverse infrastructure, you’re going to suffer some downtime until things can be resolved. And obviously, downtime is bad. It can cost you money, but it can also tarnish your reputation, waste employee time, or affect you in a variety of other ways.
That’s where RTO comes in. Determining RTO involves understanding all the ways downtime can affect you, which helps you understand how much downtime you can tolerate. Of course, you don’t want any downtime, but that may not be realistic, so it’s important to understand how much you can take.
Once you have an RTO, you’re in a position to make some informed decisions about your disaster recovery plan. For example, if you determine that you can really only handle a single hour of downtime, then you probably need to invest in disaster recovery technology that makes that possible, something using virtualization, for example.
So how do you determine an RTO?
How Much Downtime Can You Take?
The first thing to keep in mind is that you’ll probably have different RTOs for each server or application. For example, you’ll probably have a different tolerance for downtime for your Exchange server, which everyone needs pretty much all the time, than for some little-used file server. It’s important to take these differences into account so your disaster recovery plan can be as efficient and effective as possible. In fact, according to a recent study by the Aberdeen Group, one of the factors that predicts a business’s fitness when facing disaster is whether or not the business determines RTO by application.
Also, make sure you involve all the various stakeholders in your business. While the financial cost of downtime will probably at the top of your priority list, it’s important to understand how downtime will affect every different aspect of your company before you can make an educated plan.
Being prepared for a disaster is really all about understanding and adapting to the needs of your IT environment and RTO is a great tool to help you do that.