The Fundamental Difference Between Backup & Disaster Recovery

The business world is filled with jargon, both specific to your industry, and used across the board. And one of the most universally jargon-filled areas is without a doubt IT. It’s filled with acronyms and phrases that few people truly understand. This makes it easy for terminology to become confused. Or for business owners and managers to think that two ideas are one and the same. One perfect example of this, and one that businesses confuse to their detriment, is the difference between backup and disaster recovery.

It’s easy to understand how the two solutions have become confused. But it’s also essential for every business to understand the difference between backup and disaster recovery, and how they should be implemented. After all, a misunderstanding could lead to critical data becoming ‘lost in translation’, so to speak.

To understand the difference between recovery and backup, you first need to know what each of the phrases refers to.

What is a Backup?

A backup is simply a copy of all your business data. 

It can be stored as a Cloud Backup or on-premises. It usually includes your apps, your files and documents, databases, emails and more. Having your critical information backed up will mean that if something happens to your original files, you will have copies of them available to you. No data will be lost. 

There are two factors that should be at the top of your mind when thinking about your own business’ backups.

  • How often they’re done
  • And where they’re kept.

The more often your information is copied, the more complete your backup will be. A business that performs a thorough backup once a year, for example, is risking a significant amount of information becoming lost if they are attacked 11 months after their last backup was completed. This is why it’s recommended that businesses perform thorough backups at least once a month. Critical information should be backed up once a week.

The more copies of your backups you have available to you, and the more data centres they’re stored in, the lower the likelihood of your information becoming lost due to, for example, an extended period of load shedding. While the likelihood of a data centre becoming unavailable is slim, storing your backups in centres across the country will ensure that you’ll always have access to your information in case of an emergency. Knowing where your data’s backed up to can also help you stay compliant with regulations like the POPI Act and the UK’s GDPR.

What is Disaster Recovery?

Once you have backups of your data, you’ll likely think that all of your worries are taken care of. If disaster strikes, you won’t lose any information, which is fantastic. But then the worst happens. You’re hit by a ransomware attack, or your information becomes corrupted. And you suddenly wonder to yourself, what happened to those backups I’ve been doing every week, month and year?

Backups don’t restore themselves. You need to have a plan in place for retrieving the information you’ve so saved. This is where Disaster Recovery (DR) comes into the equation.

Disaster Recovery is a set of actions and procedures that a business puts in place to ensure that when disaster strikes, the impact on business operations will be as small as possible. A good Disaster Recovery plan includes:

  • Measures that staff members should take
  • Roles for bringing the business back online
  • Priorities that dictate which data and services should be brought back online first
  • Details for which systems be restored in the background.


It can even include an entirely separate environment, like Microsoft Azure Backup and Recovery where all of your data, apps, network and servers are duplicated and maintained within the cloud.

You see, it’s less a matter of DR vs. backup. Backups actually form part of Disaster Recovery. While you can save backups without a Disaster Recovery plan, every good plan will revolve around the backups that you’ve stored.

3 Differences Between Backup & Disaster Recovery

Now you know the fundamental difference between backup and disaster recovery, and why any business needs to have both. Let’s look at 3 more differences between the two to help you understand the areas that you need to consider when putting them in place:

1. Recovery Time & Recovery Point Objectives

A big difference between backup and disaster recovery is their focus on recovery time vs. recovery point objectives.

A Recovery Time Objective (RTO) refers to how quickly your operations can return to normal after a data disaster has taken place. A Recovery Point Objective (RPO), on the other hand, refers to how much data you are able to restore.

The frequency of your backups will be the biggest factor when determining your RPO. Let’s look at the example mentioned earlier. If you’re only backing up your data once a year, the recovery point could be data that’s 11 months old. Meaning that almost a year’s critical information could be lost!

Your RTO is mostly related to your Disaster Recovery plan itself. You’ll be prioritising which information should be restored first and foremost to ensure that your operations can be back up and running as soon as possible.

2. Space and Resources

Backups take up very little space, since they’re compressed. Restoring them as part of a disaster recovery plan will usually use the resources that you already have available to you, such as your cloud storage facilities.

Disaster Recovery plans where your information, apps and infrastructure are stored in a separate environment need a lot more space. They also rely on resources like memory and CPU to run. While a solution like this will ensure that your business can be back up and running without any delay whatsoever, it is more costly to maintain. This environment will need to be available 24/7, 365 to be truly effective.

3. Planning

Planning your backups is quick and easy. All you need to do is choose what data needs to be copied, how often, and where it should go.

Putting a Disaster Recovery plan in place is a far more complex scenario. As mentioned earlier, a good plan is multi-faceted. It involves assigning roles to staff members to ensure that the process goes smoothly, choosing which data is most critical to your operations and needs to be restored first, and determining where your data should be restored to. It can also include communication to clients who may be impacted by the disruption.

When thinking about the difference between backup and disaster recovery, it should never be a case of a business choosing between the two solutions. At the end of the day, the basic goal behind both is the similar. Ensuring that no critical data gets lost. But the two work together, rather than being one and the same. Backups form part of Disaster Recovery plans, and no DR plan would be complete without a backup. 

The real question you should be asking yourself is how you can start putting both into place for your business. And the answer is simple. Turn to the experts. At Solid Systems, we’ve been helping businesses to protect their data and critical apps for over 18 years. We’re more than happy to help you understand the difference between backup and disaster recovery, and put together the perfect plan for your business continuity. It’s never too early to start securing your business – contact us today.

Michael Claxton

Michael Claxton

Co-Founder and CEO of Solid Systems | I am a father of two, and a mentor of many. My calm focus makes me a natural leader, both in and out the office, and I have a unique skill in nurturing leadership qualities in others as well. But most of all, I understand the true value of time and the ways that technology can optimise efficiency within a business and see humans making the most of the time available to them, both in terms of productivity, and in terms of personal growth. 

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