Business Continuity vs. Disaster Recovery

In his latest post, Virtualization Expert David Davis provides an overview of the terms business continuity and disaster recovery and the difference as it applies to IT administrators. 

Most IT people use the terms Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery synonymously. However, while these concepts are similar they cannot be used interchangeably. After all, a “Coke” is not a “Pepsi,” nor is a “Coke” any generic soft drink. The two terms are often conflated and I wanted to provide a breakdown of what each means, and why they're different. 

What is Business Continuity?

Business continuity is not something that you use when you have a disaster. Disaster recovery is a small subset of business continuity, which has a much larger “umbrella” than DR.

Business continuity includes the daily activities related to ensuring your business functions continue for employees, suppliers, and customers. Those activities could include:

  • Project planning to create contingency plans
  • Performing system backups
  • Testing recovery, not just for servers but for employee desktops and processes
  • Configuration and change management of hardware and software
  • Ensuring help desk technicians are prepared for every scenario
  • Planning for work area recovery should the datacenter be functioning but employee office space be unavailable
  • Testing high availability of servers and applications

In general, the goal of business continuity is to ensure that the critical company data has integrity, that service levels are met, and that applications can quickly be brought back online if there is an interruption of service.

Business continuity doesn’t just relate to the datacenter, servers, or application data. Business continuity is ensuring that every aspect of business operations -- including employees, customers, suppliers and necessary services -- continue should something unexpected happen.

To be able to ensure the business continues, you must perform a business impact analysis (or BIA). The BIA is used to determine all the company’s business functions and then prioritize those such that you can assign recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO). RPO is the point in time that your applications will be recovered from and RTO is the time it will take to get those applications available again.

What is Disaster Recovery?

Being a subset of business continuity, disaster recovery encompasses the process, procedures, and policies related to planning for a technology disaster and recovering from one. Unlike business continuity, that encompasses the entire business, disaster recovery is just focused on “the technology” side of the business. Because your critical servers, network connections, applications, and data are all in the company’s datacenter, disaster recovery typically focuses on the planning and preparation related to an unexpected event in the datacenter which would cause an outage. That event could be caused by humans (you accidentally deleted the wrong files resulting in the database server going down) or by a natural disaster (tornado, fire, flood, earthquake, or hurricane).

BC vs DR

In summary, business continuity is the “big picture”, making sure the entire company survives the unexpected. Disaster recovery is a small subset of that, ensuring that the datacenter, servers, and data recovery when the unexpected happens. Don’t confuse the two, they are as different as chocolate and peanut butter.


About the Author

David Davis is the author of the best-selling VMware vSphere video training library from TrainSignal. He has written hundreds of virtualization articles on the Web, is a vExpert, VCP, VCAP-DCA, and CCIE #9369 with more than 18 years of enterprise IT experience. His personal blog is