When working in a critical sector like healthcare, business continuity planning is an essential task. In fact, organizations subject to HIPAA regulations must create a risk assessment that identifies the systems that contain sensitive data and plan for what happens to that data in case of an emergency. Once you understand what data is at risk, you can begin to understand your tolerance level and plan for the worst-case scenario. Two key factors to consider are RTO and RPO. This article explains the difference between RTO and RPO and how to account for each in business continuity planning.
Recovery Time Objective (RTO)
RTO stands for Recovery Time Objective. This term refers to the length of time it takes to restore operations from the start of an issue to when the system is again fully functional. Essentially, it refers to how much unplanned downtime can be tolerated before it leads to significant business impacts.
Unplanned downtime of critical systems can be extremely damaging to business operations. For example, if a hospital system’s electronic medical records go down because of a ransomware attack, patient care may need to be stopped or diverted until systems are back online. This could have not only devastating financial impacts but could also lead to loss of life.
Every system will have a different tolerance level for downtime. The Recovery Time Objective will vary based on the importance of various systems and the costs to your business. For example, maybe the EHR can be down for 15 minutes without causing severe business impacts. On the other hand, a less crucial system, like the hospital phone system, could be down from three to six hours without causing significant impacts on the business. Each system requires its own disaster recovery plan and has a different RTO.
Recovery Point Objective (RPO)
RPO stands for Recovery Point Objective. This term refers to how much data could be lost due to an unplanned outage. Organizations must know how frequently to backup data so it can be restored without data loss in an emergency.
Once again, this will vary based on the business and the importance of the data. Some organizations may find that daily backups are sufficient for less critical systems, while others may prefer to employ more frequent backups. Take our last example of a ransomware attack on an EHR. In this scenario, the time of the last backup is crucial. If the attack occurred at noon, and the system is only backed up once a day at 10pm, all the patient data added to the EHR that morning will be missing. For a critical system like an EHR, more frequent backups are appropriate.
The Difference Between RTO and RPO
Both RTO and RPO are vital to creating a business continuity plan. If backups of data are readily available, there will be less downtime. Taking our ransomware example from the previous paragraph, if data is backed up and stored separately from the EHR system, a well-trained and prepared IT team can restore the data onto new servers without severely impacting business operations. Frequent backups will allow the IT team to restore the system with zero data loss and limited downtime.
Business Continuity Planning RTO vs RPO
Every organization addresses business continuity planning differently, depending on the data and systems they utilize. Budget limitations, compliance risk, and data sensitivity are three factors that prominently affect how disaster recovery plans are created.
An easy solution would be to make every system as resilient as possible to avoid system downtime or data loss. However, this is often unrealistic. For most organizations, implementing highly available solutions for every system is too expensive and is somewhat nonsensical.
Conducting a risk analysis helps identify the most significant risks to the business. This information makes it easier to allocate resources efficiently. Extremely frequent backups of minor systems are unnecessary at best and can be outright wasteful. It’s better to focus business continuity efforts on the most sensitive systems and data, especially if a breach has regulatory consequences. In practice, this means creating highly redundant and available configurations for the most vital systems to business operations.
Reduce RTO and RPO with High Availability Solutions
Once you understand your tolerance for downtime and data loss, it is possible to create infrastructure solutions that minimize (or practically eliminate) RTO and RPO. LuxSci’s high availability solutions offer practically zero downtime and data loss. One way to achieve this is by using load balancers to redirect traffic away from unavailable servers. To reduce downtime and data loss, it’s a good idea to use geographically redundant MySQL databases.