What is the difference between disaster recovery and business continuity?

What is the difference between disaster recovery and business continuity?

According to FEMA, 40% of businesses never reopen following a disaster, while a further 25% fail within the first year. For the legal sector, in which trust and integrity are paramount, these figures are likely even higher. That’s why it’s so important to plan for the worst-case scenario.

When determining how to safeguard your business, disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) are two of the most common terms you’ll encounter. Although DR and BC are often confused, they are different strategies of more or less equal importance.

  • Disaster recovery is a subset of business continuity that focuses on restoring critical systems like communications infrastructure and IT assets.
  • Business continuity is a plan of action designed to ensure that critical business functions can resume operations.

You need both to protect your business from events like hardware failures, natural disasters, data breaches, and any other threats your business faces.


Business continuity has a far wider scope than disaster recovery. While DR is largely about systems and infrastructure, BC focuses on the bigger picture to cover things like processes and procedures. Without BC planning, a DR plan will be largely ineffective. BC focuses more on people and their roles than on technology itself. Planning consists of a strategic approach that prioritizes key business functions and clearly outlines the responsibilities of your team in the event of a catastrophe. In other words, you might think of a BC plan as a way to implement your more technically orientated DR plan.


Even if your organization survives a disaster, it will face major losses if it doesn’t have a rock-solid BC and DR plan. Aside from unpredictable financial losses, a disaster can cause serious brand damage, and may even lead to litigation if it emerges that the disaster is ultimately a result of a compliance failure.

Two of the most critical elements of a continuity plan are a risk analysis and a business impact analysis (BIA). These documented procedures determine the level of risk your practice faces and the impact of those risks in the event of a disaster. Based on the findings outlined in the documents, you can advance your business continuity strategy by bringing the risk down to an acceptable level and implementing a disaster recovery plan that helps you prepare for the worst-case scenario.

As a subset of business continuity, disaster recovery is all about getting your systems up and running following an incident. Two of the most important parameters here are your recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO). These refer to the maximum amount of data you can afford to lose and the maximum amount of time it should take to get everything back up and running, respectively. These figures, in turn, will help you determine the optimal disaster recovery solutions.

For example, if your firm cannot afford to lose more than a day’s worth of records, you’ll need a backup solution that automatically synchronizes your data at least once per day. Insofar as your RTO is concerned, you’ll need to select support and recovery systems that can accommodate those goals. Naturally, you’ll probably end up with different RPOs and RTOs for different systems, depending on how important they are to your business.

The importance of strategy

Business continuity is primarily a strategy, whereas disaster recovery is more like a selection of technical solutions chosen to accommodate your recovery and continuity goals. In the end, you need to know exactly what to do should your practice face an unexpected incident, and everyone on your team needs to be immediately familiar with their goals. Together, BC and DR are strategies that can help you prepare for any eventuality.

Vertex is Toronto’s premier IT services provider for law firms. Our solutions and expertise help your practice perform at an optimal level and guard against current and future threats. Call us today to learn more about our comprehensive offers.

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