Why is backup important in disaster recovery plan?

Disaster recovery planning is a critical part of any organization’s IT strategy. Having a well-documented and tested disaster recovery plan in place allows an organization to quickly resume business operations and limit disruption in the event of an unexpected outage or catastrophic event. One of the most important elements of an effective disaster recovery plan is a comprehensive data backup and recovery strategy. Performing regular backups and maintaining offsite copies of data is essential for minimizing data loss and recovery time. In this article, we will explore why backup is such a vital component of disaster recovery and business continuity.

What is disaster recovery planning?

Disaster recovery planning refers to the policies, procedures and actions put in place to enable the recovery of IT infrastructure, systems and data in the event of a disruption. The goal is to resume critical business operations as quickly and smoothly as possible after a major failure or disaster impacting IT systems and infrastructure.

A disaster recovery plan outlines the processes for restoring access and functionality to systems, applications, data and network infrastructure. It documents which personnel to contact, steps to take, resources available, and the policies and procedures to follow in the event of an emergency or extended disruption. Thorough disaster recovery planning prepares an organization for a range of possible scenarios, from minor outages to permanent destruction of facilities and infrastructure.

Why is a disaster recovery plan important?

There are several key reasons why disaster recovery planning is a critical process for any organization:

  • Minimizes downtime: Having response procedures documented ahead of time enables teams to react quickly and start recovery operations sooner, reducing how long critical systems are unavailable.
  • Maintains business continuity: A good disaster recovery plan minimizes disruption to business processes and operations. This ensures an organization can continue serving customers and meeting objectives.
  • Limits financial losses: Outages often result in lost revenues, productivity and other costs. Effective disaster recovery helps curb these financial impacts and mitigate damage.
  • Fulfills compliance requirements: Some industries have regulations requiring formal disaster recovery plans, documentation and testing.
  • Protects public image: Rapid, coordinated disaster recovery demonstrates resilience and helps maintain consumer confidence and trust.

In today’s data-driven world where downtime directly impacts the bottom line, having robust continuity and disaster recovery protocols is no longer optional. The costs and consequences of being caught unprepared for a disruption can be severe. Disaster recovery planning is essential for managing risk, ensuring uptime and stabilizing operations when the unexpected occurs.

Backup as a critical element of disaster recovery

While a disaster recovery plan covers a wide range of policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities, backup is arguably one of the most important focuses. The availability and integrity of data is often the number one priority following any outage, disaster or failure. Complete and recent backups ensure a business can resume operations with minimal data loss.

Backup refers to the copying and archiving of data to enable restoration in the event of data loss. Backups create redundancy by maintaining one or more secondary copies of production data stored on alternate devices accessible from alternate locations. This ensures data remains available and recoverable if the primary data source is compromised.

Maintaining reliable, regularly updated backups is probably the single most impactful precaution an organization can take to ensure resilience. Current backups limit how much work is lost and speed up restoration times. As we’ll explore in more detail, comprehensive data backup is a foundational element of disaster recovery planning for several key reasons.

Protects against data loss

The most obvious benefit of backup in disaster recovery is protection against potential data loss. Backup creates copies of data that can be restored in the case of:

  • Application or hardware failure causing data corruption or making data inaccessible
  • Operational errors that mistakenly delete or overwrite data
  • Cyber attacks such as malware, ransomware or hacks that damage data
  • Natural disasters like fires, floods or storms that destroy storage infrastructure

Without the redundant copies provided by backup, these types of incidents can mean permanent data loss. Backups ensure that data remains recoverable regardless of what may happen to primary data stores and locations. They provide insurance for data integrity and availability.

Enables recovery point objectives

Recovery point objective (RPO) refers to the maximum amount of data loss or restoration point that is acceptable in the event of a disruption. This is measured in the amount of time between the most recent recoverable backup and when the outage occurs.

For example, if a company performs a full backup every 24 hours, they have an RPO of 24 hours. This means in a worst-case scenario involving complete system failure, they would lose no more than 24 hours worth of new data created since the latest backup.

More frequent backup cycles allow for lower RPOs and minimized data loss. High-priority systems often have very low RPOs of just an hour or less. Backup enables aligning disaster recovery with desired RPO benchmarks that fit application and data criticality.

Supports recovery time objectives

The recovery time objective (RTO) is the duration of time following an outage within which systems, applications and data must be restored to resume business operations. This is the maximum acceptable length of downtime.

Backups speed up recovery times by having clean, current data ready to bring systems back online faster. Local onsite backups eliminate wait times associated with downloading data from offsite locations. Tested backup and recovery procedures also reduce uncertainty and human error during system restoration, helping achieve RTO metrics.

Facilitates offsite availability

Keeping backups in the same facility as an organization’s production IT environment limits their effectiveness for disaster recovery purposes. Any event that damages on premises equipment is likely to destroy local backup files as well.

Maintaining copies of data in one or more alternative locations ensures offsite availability if a disaster renders primary systems and backup media at a main site unusable. Many businesses backup data to the cloud for geographic redundancy against localized disasters. Offsite backup also protects against theft, sabotage and other scenarios making onsite-only data inaccessible.

Allows restore testing and drills

Testing backup operational readiness through periodic restoration drills is a key disaster recovery best practice. Successfully restoring trial backups verifies that files are recoverable when needed. It also provides opportunities for staff training on restoration procedures.

These test restores confirm:

  • Backup copies contain uncompromised, usable data
  • Recovery documentation matches and supports the process
  • Personnel understand their responsibilities
  • Shortcomings exist that require remedy

Backup facilitates hands-on testing that builds confidence in an organization’s ability to restore functionality per disaster recovery requirements.

Supports version control and retention

Maintaining multiple generations of backups through versioning provides additional protection against data loss. Should an error or corruption destroy the most recent backup, older copies become available for restoration.

Backup also enables aligning data retention policies with regulatory and compliance mandates. Certain industries have data preservation requirements related to disaster recovery planning. For example, financial companies must be able to produce records and transaction logs from several years back in case of audits or lawsuits. Backup provides access to point-in-time data throughout defined retention periods.

Integrates with replication

Replication can bolster backup as part of a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy. Replication continuously or periodically synchronizes data between a primary and one or more secondary data sources. This duplicates data across sites in near real-time for added redundancy.

Backup and replication work together to strengthen contingency planning:

  • Replication minimizes RPO by activating secondary systems with recent data for faster recovery
  • Backup protects replicated data against corruption and errors
  • Long-term data retention relies more on backup after replication window expires
  • Backup copies enable rebuilding replica data from clean sources if needed

Organizations often deploy disk-based replication for operational recovery across metro areas combined with offsite tape or cloud backup for archiving overwritten or historic data. The integrated use of both technologies improves recoverability across a diverse set of disaster and outage scenarios.

Supports non-disaster data recovery

While backup is a critical pillar of disaster recovery preparedness, it also provides business value through non-crisis data recovery use cases:

  • File restoration: Recovering one or more lost or corrupted files from backup.
  • System reversion: Reverting a server or other system back to an earlier backup version.
  • Application redeployment: Restoring application data and configuration from backup copies for reuse.
  • Forensics and eDiscovery: Accessing historic data from backup archives needed for investigations or legal matters.

Backup serves data protection needs across both disaster and routine scenarios. The same archives and data made available for emergency restoration also support more selective day-to-day recovery workflows.

Backup infrastructure and methodologies

There are many ways organizations architect, automate and manage data backup in alignment with disaster recovery objectives. Common options include:

Backup targets

This refers to the media or destination for storing backup copies:

  • Disk: Direct-attached storage (DAS), storage-area networks (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) disks dedicated for backup data.
  • Removable media: External hard drives, magnetic tape cartridges, optical discs.
  • Cloud storage: Backup as a Service (BaaS) offerings providing object storage in cloud.

Disk and cloud options allow for faster and more frequent backups/restores. Tape works well for cost-effective long-term archival. Removable media facilitates offsite disaster recovery storage.

Backup types

  • Full backup: Copies all contents of the data source to provide a complete restore starting point.
  • Incremental backup: Only captures changes since the last full or incremental backup.
  • Differential backup: Copies all changes since the last full backup.

Incremental and differential backup enable more frequent cycles by only moving updated data. However, restores require chaining together multiple incremental versions.

Snapshot-based backup

Snapshots capture block-level point-in-time copies of data rather than just files. This allows near-instant full system restores from any snapshot version. However, snapshots do not protect well against corruption introduced before their creation.

Agent-based backup

Backup agents are software modules on client devices that connect to and transfer data to target backup destinations. Agents facilitate centralized, automated enterprise backup capabilities.

Backup methodology

  • Full + Incremental: A weekly full backup combined with daily incrementals provide a tiered strategy balancing recovery needs and overhead.
  • Disk-to-disk-to-tape (D2D2T): Primary backups to disk for fast restores, with additional tape copies for archiving.
  • Grandfather-father-son: Retaining daily, weekly and monthly backups ensures multiple generations of restore points.

Data backup limitations

While critically important, data backup alone has limitations that must be recognized when incorporated into disaster recovery planning:

  • Backups that aren’t tested may be corrupt and unusable.
  • Gaps in backup scopes and schedules can still expose data to loss.
  • Restores from outdated backups mean losing recent work.
  • Lacking offsite copies leaves backups vulnerable to site disasters.
  • Inconsistent backup and retention can fail compliance mandates.
  • Uncoordinated backup strategies create gaps in system-level recovery.

Effective disaster recovery integration requires a holistic approach to ensure backup reliability, integrity and alignment with RTOs across all critical data sources.

Aligning backup with disaster recovery requirements

While backups represent just one facet of an overall disaster recovery plan, optimization for this purpose involves several considerations:

  • Define backup methodology, schedules and retention in support of RPOs.
  • Select disaster recovery infrastructure suitable for RTOs.
  • Include backups in scope of disaster recovery testing.
  • Maintain comprehensive documentation for backup architecture and processes.
  • Audit backups regularly for completeness, readability and compliance.
  • Train staff on established backup and restore procedures.

With deliberate planning, backup can serve as an enabling pillar of disaster recovery by being purpose-built around defined policies and objectives.

The role of managed service providers

Given the technical complexity and cross-functional coordination involved, many organizations engage managed service providers (MSPs) specialized in data protection as part of their disaster recovery strategy.

MSPs centralize responsibility across activities such as:

  • Designing, implementing and supporting backup environments and workflows
  • Monitoring and managing backup operations 24/7
  • Performing periodic disaster recovery testing
  • Providing certified secure facilities for offsite tape rotation
  • Supplying emergency data recovery services
  • Conducting regular backup audits and risk assessments

This alleviates the burden on internal teams while gaining access to expert personnel, facilities and systematic hardening refined across many clients. MSPs enable backup to seamlessly align with and underpin disaster recovery objectives.


In summary, maintaining reliable and current data backups is a foundational prerequisite for effective disaster recovery. Backups limit exposure to data loss and corruption, minimize downtime and support resumption of normal operations as quickly as possible. Aligning backup architecture and schedules with defined RPOs and RTOs ensures backup fully enables disaster recovery goals.

While not a complete solution on its own, comprehensive backup represents a cornerstone capability for the continuity of IT systems and data availability following adverse events. Especially when supported by specialist MSPs, purpose-built backup integrated across operations lays the groundwork for successful disaster recovery.

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