The Evolution of Data Protection: Differences between Backup and Disaster Recovery

By Zeb Ahmed, CLOUD, XaaS & BCDR Leader – IBM:

Having worked with many clients over the last 10-15 years in the data protection space, one of most common questions that I have been asked is “How is Backup different from Disaster Recovery?” There is usually quite a bit of confusion around the conceptual differences, so let me avail this opportunity to explain the differences between the two and explain how these terms have evolved over time.

Simply put, there are three key factors that will help you determine whether you should look for a backup or a disaster recovery solution:

  1. How much data loss can the business afford (RPO – Recovery Point Objective)?
  2. How quickly do the applications need to be up and running (RTO- Recovery Time Objective)?
  3. How long does the data need to be retained?

Historically, if your answer to questions 1 and 2 was in minutes and/or hours and there were no hard set requirements for long term retention, you would probably lean towards a disaster recovery solution. In comparison, if you did not have any strict requirements around question 1 and 2 but you needed to retain your data long term, perhaps large amounts of legacy data on lower cost storage, you probably would have leaned towards a backup solution.

Fast forward to today, the lines between backup and disaster recovery have blurred. Notice, I did not put offsite data recovery or replication as a questions up above. Reason being that almost all traditional and new generation backup and DR products have made this a standard feature, and hence it is not a differentiation factor between backup and DR anymore. Software companies are really focusing on building products that offer “Resiliency” and “Business Continuity” which include both traditional backup and disaster recovery features. These software products can not only solve for question 1, 2 and 3 but can also provide additional feature set and functionality, giving users more control and a more resilient products. In many cases, you will find multiple products that will solve for your given requirements. When evaluating these products, focus on which of the product features are most important to the business and solve the meet the most critical requirements. Also many products may carry the same features but some will do it better than others. That’s where things like demo’s, proof of concepts and testing come into play. Understand the technology behind these products and spend time to analyze and identify gaps.

Also, another key factor to consider is licensing. With so many Cloud options such as IBM Cloud, AWS, Azure, Google Cloud available, you must take Cloud vs. Perpetual licensing into account. Perpetual licensing will lock you into a vendor with an upfront capex license cost where as you can walk away from the vendor if you consume a Cloud opex license. In fairness, perpetual license can pay off if you decide to stay with the vendor long term.

In summary, it is not as simple to differentiate between backup and DR product as it used to be. All of vendors are closing gap and making strides towards their own road maps. Understanding not only the features but the direction these companies are headed towards would provide clarity and help you choose the product that meets your needs. And last but not least …. TEST TEST AND TEST AGAIN!!

Feel free to reach out with any questions or guidance and I would be happy to help!!

Zeb Ahmed is a Senior Manager Product Management for IBM with responsibility for overseeing and managing the Backup and Disaster Recovery portfolio and partner eceosystem for IBM Cloud.

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