Written by: Daniel Haurey on 03/21/24

Confusion and misconceptions abound when it comes to the difference between backup and disaster recovery (BDR) and business continuity planning (BCP). While the terms sound similar, business continuity and backup and disaster recovery are distinct concepts. Done together, the two keep your organization running after unexpected events such as natural disasters, hardware failures, or cyber attacks. The key difference is that business continuity is a broad strategy that addresses the “what” and “why” of recovery, while BDR is the technology-focused specifics for dealing with “how.” BDR is an important tool within business continuity, but it’s not the whole picture.

Many businesses focus disaster planning on technology solutions – the backup and restoration tools needed. However, any reputable managed IT services provider partner will warn you that technology is only part of the strategy. Creating the right combination of backup, recovery, restoration, policies, communications, and planning is challenging, but the only way your organization is truly business resilient in the face of unexpected disasters. That is business continuity.

The best approach to understanding the difference between business continuity and disaster recovery is to understand what each concept entails and how they work together.

Business Continuity Focuses on Where, When, How

Business continuity (vs. disaster recovery) focuses on the where, when, and how of maintaining operations, including plans for where employees will work in case of a disaster, how communications between the team and customers will be managed, and what business functions are most critical to recover and restore. The goal is downtime mitigation and a return to some level of operations as quickly as manageable.

MSPs are essential to creating the technology infrastructure that can support your organization’s critical business operations and deploying reliable solutions that enable data loss prevention and function restoration as soon as possible. This requires detailed and proactive planning that spans all aspects of the organization’s hardware and software and should be done collaboratively. That planning sits within the walls of your business continuity strategy.

For example, if your office building floods, your managed IT services provider relies on the business continuity plan for guidance on where and when to set up temporary technology infrastructure at an alternative worksite or direct employees on how to work securely from their homes—depending on the circumstances and the plan you’ve all agreed on. Your business continuity strategy also includes the process for notifying employees of the decision, handling customer communications about the service disruption, and more—not just the tech aspect.

The location of your organization has a significant impact on continuity planning. For example, business continuity strategies in New York and New Jersey would likely include specific details for handling hurricanes or nor’easters, while disaster recovery planning in Denver might include options for weathering a winter storm that causes massive power outages. Those looking for business continuity best practices in Los Angeles would demand a plan for the challenges of earthquakes.

Key points to remember about business continuity:

  • Focus: Overall strategy and roadmap for recovering critical business functions after a disaster
  • Scope: Broader than just data, encompasses people, processes, technology, and communication plans
  • Goal: Minimize downtime and financial losses, and maintain essential operations
  • Example: Having a backup office location for employees to work from in case of a localized power outage

Disaster Recovery Addresses Data and IT Specifics

Disaster recovery (vs. business continuity) focuses specifically on how an organization responds to and recovers from a catastrophe, including how it restores full operations with support from needed technology solutions. That disruption can be anything—an inconvenience such as an extended power or internet outage or a full-blown natural disaster or a paralyzing ransomware attack.

Because nearly every modern organization relies on technology as the backbone for their operations, using IT solutions for everything from customer communications to human resources, MSPs play a critical role in IT disaster recovery. Working collaboratively with a business and its stakeholders, MSPs should guide the data backup and recovery process, including driving decisions about BDR solutions that may be needed.

For example, suppose a ransomware attack locks an organization’s data, making it inaccessible.  Your disaster recovery plan will have all the technical steps and other details needed to restore data from backups quickly. However, the BDR plan will not address communications to customers about data loss or compromise.

Key points to remember about backup and disaster recovery:

  • Focus: Technical aspect of recovering data and applications after a disaster
  • Scope: Primarily focused on data loss prevention, backups, system restores, and infrastructure recovery
  • Goal: Ensure timely and complete data restoration to resume operations quickly
  • Example: Using cloud-based data backups to restore critical files after a server crash

Learn more about hybrid vs. cloud backup and disaster recovery

Understanding the Differences Between BCP vs. BDR

The key differentiator between backup and disaster recovery and business continuity is scope. The reason business continuity uses a wider lens is because that plan’s goal is getting your business operational as soon as possible, even if it’s limited. That means addressing every element of your organization, with phases and steps building toward full operations. Because of that, business continuity strategies guide everything from standing up operations to addressing the organization’s brand reputation, managing communications, protecting customer relationships, and financial implications. Business continuity best practices require your strategy to address people, processes, facilities, and documentation while your BDR plan is focused on only technology systems.

Your MSP partner plays a critical role in both, serving as an objective but experienced outsider who can offer a different point of view. As technology experts, your MSP will likely influence your BDR plan the most; however, your IT expert can also offer best practices and training based on experience with other companies and multiple types of disruptions.

So, do you need both plans? Yes. Creating both a comprehensive business continuity strategy and a detailed BDR plan is essential for true preparedness.  Looking for somewhere to start? 
Download our disaster recovery checklist here

Next week: How Compliance Layers Complexity into Business Continuity Blueprints