What is RTO?
Recovery Time Objective (RTO) refers to the maximum amount of time that a business process or service can be disrupted before there is an unacceptable impact on the business.1 It is a key metric used in business continuity planning that sets a target for how quickly systems and processes need to be restored after a disruption.2
The RTO establishes the recovery priorities and timeframes needed to resume critical operations before intolerable impacts on the business occur. Having an RTO helps ensure continuity of operations and timely resumption of essential functions in the event of a disaster or disruption. It provides measurable business continuity goals to work towards.
Setting appropriate RTOs is crucial for business continuity management. The RTO drives many aspects of the disaster recovery strategy such as solution design, amount of redundancy required, and resources needed for resumption. An unrealistic RTO that is too short may result in excessive costs, while an RTO set too long may negatively impact revenue and reputation.
How RTO Relates to Downtime
The Recovery Time Objective (RTO) directly correlates to the amount of potential downtime an organization faces during a disruption. The RTO sets the target time for recovering critical IT operations after an outage occurs. The lower the RTO, the less downtime is acceptable.
While a lower RTO is ideal, extensive downtime can be hugely detrimental for any organization. The costs of downtime vary by industry, but some estimates indicate that one hour of downtime can cost an average of $100,000 or more. For technology companies and other online businesses, the costs are often dramatically higher. One tech industry analysis found that the average cost of IT downtime is around $5,600 per minute.
With downtime costs so substantial, reducing RTO allows organizations to minimize revenue losses, maintain productivity, preserve reputation, and avoid data loss. The lower the RTO, the faster systems and operations can be restored after an incident. While achieving an extremely low RTO may not be feasible for every process, establishing realistic RTO objectives based on business needs can help reduce downtime expenses.
Setting RTO Objectives
When setting recovery time objectives (RTOs), organizations should consider several factors to determine appropriate targets across applications, systems, and business processes. Key considerations include:
Business requirements – The criticality of systems and processes to ongoing operations and revenue generation will dictate more aggressive RTOs.
Cost – More rigorous RTO targets require greater technology investments and recovery resourcing. Organizations must balance RTOs against budget realities.
Technical feasibility – The availability of systems, infrastructure, and data recovery capabilities may constrain how low RTOs can reasonably go.
Industry norms – Understanding RTO benchmarks for specific industries and application types provides context for setting objectives.
According to research, average RTOs for core business systems are:
- ERP systems – 24 hours
- CRM systems – 6 hours
- Email systems – 1 hour
- Payment systems – 1 hour
Organizations should weigh all these factors to land on pragmatic RTO targets across mission-critical IT and business functions.
Measuring and Reporting on RTO
Measuring and reporting on RTO is a critical part of maintaining and improving disaster recovery capabilities. There are a few key methods for measuring RTO:
Actual testing – Conducting regular disaster recovery tests and drills allows an organization to measure actual RTOs during a simulated event. This provides concrete data on recovery performance.
Modeling – Using disaster recovery tools and models, analysts can estimate projected RTOs based on the current recovery architecture and procedures. This provides more frequent insights between tests.
Post-incident reviews – After an actual disruption or outage, the RTO can be calculated based on the actual recovery time and compared to RTO objectives. This helps assess the efficacy of DR plans.
Regarding frequency of reporting, it is recommended that RTO metrics be compiled and reported to stakeholders on a quarterly basis at minimum. More frequent reporting such as monthly or weekly may be warranted for organizations with aggressive RTOs or rapidly evolving infrastructure. Comparing current RTOs against objectives identifies gaps to be addressed (https://www.cohesity.com/blogs/6-rto-best-practices-why-its-time-to-revisit-application-rtos/).
Integrating RTO into DR Planning
RTO plays a critical role in disaster recovery (DR) planning and testing. The RTO objective sets the timeframe target for recovering systems and data after a disruption. This drives key decisions in the DR plan, such as how quickly backups need to occur and what infrastructure is required to restore operations.
Organizations must regularly test their ability to meet RTO goals through DR tests and exercises. This involves simulating outages and disasters to practice restoring systems within the RTO window. Testing helps validate that the recovery procedures, technology, staffing, and other DR elements come together to actually achieve the desired RTO.
DR testing also provides insights on potential gaps to meeting RTO objectives. For example, a test may reveal bottlenecks in restoring certain applications or inadequate backup tools unable to recover within the RTO timeframe. This data allows organizations to refine their DR plans and capabilities until testing proves the ability to reliably meet RTO goals.
According to one source, “The only way to determine your RTO is to perform regular disaster recovery testing.” Effective testing integrates RTO as a key benchmark for measuring DR performance and readiness.
Achieving RTO Goals
There are several strategies organizations can employ to improve RTOs and meet recovery time objectives:
Increase backup frequency – Taking backups more often reduces the amount of potential data loss and allows systems to be restored to a more recent point, improving RTOs. However, increased frequency comes with storage and bandwidth costs.
Implement changed block tracking – Backup and recovery solutions that only copy changed blocks since the last backup can significantly reduce recovery times. This avoids reprocessing unchanged data.
Set up active replication – Actively replicating data to a secondary site or cloud as changes occur ensures an up-to-date copy is available in the event of an outage or disaster. This minimizes recovery time.(1)
Automate recovery processes – Manual, complex recovery procedures can delay RTOs. Automating tasks like failover, reprovisioning of resources, and workload startup reduces administrative overhead.
Prioritize critical systems – Optimizing RTOs for lower priority systems can consume time and resources. Focus efforts on misison-critical applications and data first.
Perform recovery testing – Regular testing helps validate recovery plans and procedures. It also provides insight into potential issues impacting RTOs.
Utilize cloud disaster recovery – Cloud-based disaster recovery services can provide faster RTOs through automated failover orchestration and readily available resources.
With a combination of technology enhancements, process improvements, and testing, organizations can work to meet RTO objectives and quickly restore systems when outages occur.
RTO Considerations for Applications
When setting RTOs, it’s important to consider each application’s unique business criticality and recovery challenges. More business-critical applications like ERP systems, ecommerce sites, and customer databases warrant lower RTOs, while less critical apps like intranets may have higher RTOs.
Certain applications also pose greater complexity for achieving short RTOs. Legacy systems with convoluted architectures often prove difficult to recover quickly. Custom applications reliant on niche platforms or languages can also complicate recovery workflows. Applications relying on hardware dependencies like proprietary network gear or appliances may face longer RTOs until physical replacements are provisioned.
Cloud-native applications built on auto-scaling infrastructure and following resilience best practices like microservices and redundancy tend to offer more flexibility in achieving aggressive RTOs. However, even for modern apps, factors like recovery procedures, staff training levels, testing rigor, and availability of standby capacity play pivotal roles in determining realistic RTO targets.
Setting application-specific RTOs aligned with business needs, while accounting for recovery feasibility, allows organizations to tailor their continuity plans and justify investments required to meet their objectives.
RTO Considerations for Data
The RTO for data recovery has significant implications for data backup and restore strategies. To meet aggressive RTO objectives, organizations need ways to quickly restore large volumes of data with minimal disruption.
Some key data redundancy strategies for enabling fast RTOs include:
- Frequent snapshots and incremental backups to minimize data loss
- Data replication to secondary sites for high availability
- Multiple restore paths from backup targets like disk, tape, and cloud
- Centralized data management with global search and instant mass restore
- Virtual standby VMs that can be spun up instantly for rapid recovery
With the right data protection approach, companies can recovery from outages in minutes or seconds versus hours or days. Careful planning and testing is required to validate that RTO objectives can actually be met for mission-critical systems and datasets. Refer to url for more details on optimizing data strategies to achieve RTO goals.
Setting appropriate RTO targets requires agreement and coordination across multiple stakeholders in an organization. A key factor is gaining stakeholder alignment on the acceptable amount of downtime for critical systems and processes.
This involves discussions with business leaders, application owners, IT teams, and other groups to determine realistic RTO objectives. According to one source, “RTO and RPO targets need to be set at a level that is acceptable to the business but achievable by IT within budget constraints” (source).
Budgeting is another critical organizational factor. The investments and resources required to meet RTO goals need to be accounted for in budgets and strategic plans. As one expert advises, “The costs associated with attaining service levels should be identified, justified, and approved by the organization as part of the budget process” (source). This budgeting process helps align RTO capabilities with business priorities.
With stakeholder agreement and proper budgeting, organizations can implement the staffing, tools, and processes necessary for maintaining desired RTO performance.
Maintaining an Effective RTO Program
To keep RTO programs effective over time, organizations should conduct periodic reviews of their RTO objectives and performance. As business needs evolve, RTO targets may need to be adjusted accordingly. Regular testing and exercising of RTO procedures also helps validate that recovery plans are executable and timeframes are realistic.
It’s important to maintain visibility of RTOs throughout the organization. RTOs should be integrated into application SLAs and DR plans so that IT teams and business units alike understand the established objectives. RTO dashboards and reporting provides transparency into how well RTO goals are being met during tests and actual outages. Any gaps identified can trigger improvements.
By continually reviewing, testing and reporting on RTOs, organizations can sustain reliable DR programs that align with evolving business priorities. This helps demonstrate the business value of DR investments as well.