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RTO vs. RPO: What is the Difference?

How Recovery Time Objective and Recovery Point Objective Impact Backup and Disaster Recovery

Source: ChatGPT by OpenAI

Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) are critical components of disaster recovery. RTO refers to the goal you set for the maximum time it takes to restore operations. RPO is the goal you set for maximum acceptable data loss.  

What does RTO Mean in Cyber Security?

RTO Definition

Recovery Time Objective means the maximum acceptable time that an application, computer, network, or system can be down after a failure takes place. It stands for the amount of time it takes before disaster recovery kicks in and a business returns to normal functionality. The longer it takes, the greater the potential impact on productivity, revenue, and customer satisfaction.

RTO Examples

RTO helps organizations prioritize recovery efforts and allocate resources effectively. Expressed in time units such as hours, minutes, or days, RTO varies based on an organization’s unique needs and industry requirements, as the below examples illustrate.

1. RTO Example: Healthcare  

This hospital relies on an Electronic Health Records (EHR) system, a surgical scheduling system, and a pharmacy dispensing system. The maximum acceptable downtime they determined is: 

  • EHR system: 4 hours
  • Surgical scheduling system: 6 hours
  • Pharmacy dispensing system: 2 hours

Calculating RTO

The hospital’s IT team can subtract the maximum acceptable downtime for each system from the time of the outage or disruption.

  • If the EHR system goes down for 3 hours, the RTO would be 1 hour (4 hours – 3 hours).
  • If the surgical scheduling system is unavailable for 5 hours, the RTO would be 1 hour (6 hours – 5 hours).
  • If the pharmacy dispensing system experiences disruption for 1 hour, the RTO would be 1 hour (2 hours – 1 hour).

RTO mitigation strategies could include implementing redundant servers and using data replication solutions like GRAX to backup data into their own cloud, and conducting regular drills and simulations to test recovery procedures.

2. RTO Example: Financial Services  

This bank’s critical systems include an ATM network, core banking system, and an online banking platform. Their maximum acceptable downtime is: 

  • ATM network: 2 hours
  • Core banking system: 4 hours
  • Online banking platform: 1 hour

Calculating RTO

  • If the ATM network is down for 1.5 hours, the RTO would be 30 minutes (2 hours – 1.5 hours)
  • If the core banking system experiences a 3-hour outage, the RTO would be 1 hour (4 hours – 3 hours)
  • If the online banking platform is disrupted for 45 minutes, the RTO would be 15 minutes (1 hour – 45 minutes).

RTO mitigation strategies could include employing geographically distributed data centers, using redundant network connections and failover mechanisms, and maintaining real-time monitoring and alerting systems for rapid response.

3. RTO Example: Manufacturing  

This company’s critical systems include those for production line control, inventory management, and supplier order processing. Their maximum acceptable downtime for each is: 

  • Production line control systems: 3 hours
  • Inventory management system: 2 hours
  • Supplier order processing system: 1 hour

Calculating RTO

  • If the production line control systems are down for 2 hours, the RTO would be 1 hour (3 hours – 2 hours).
  • If the inventory management system experiences a 1.5-hour disruption, the RTO would be 30 minutes (2 hours – 1.5 hours).
  • If the supplier order processing system has an outage of 30 minutes, the RTO would be 30 minutes (1 hour – 30 minutes).

RTO mitigation strategies could include implementing backup power supplies and redundant control systems, maintaining safety stock and alternative supplier relationships, and conducting regular audits and risk assessments to update continuity plans.

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What does RPO Mean in Cyber Security?

RPO Definition

What is Recovery Point Objective? RPO is the part of disaster recovery focused on data integrity. It tells you how fresh data will be once it’s recovered. In essence, RPO answers the question: “How much data can we afford to lose?”

RPO means the maximum acceptable amount of data loss you’re willing to tolerate during a disruption. RPO is all about the frequency of data backups. As you’d expect, then, it’s measured in time units. For example, a one-hour RPO means that in the event of a disruption, you can afford to lose no more than one hour’s worth of data.

RPO Examples 

Here are three RPO examples and respective RPO mitigation strategies for the hospital, bank, and manufacturer mentioned above.

1. RPO Example: Hospital  

  • EHR system: 1 hour

The RPO of 1 hour was chosen based on the criticality of patient health data. Hospitals need to ensure that they can recover recent patient records swiftly to maintain patient care and safety.

  • Surgical scheduling system: 2 hours

With a 2-hour RPO, the hospital aims to minimize disruptions to surgical operations. This system’s data changes relatively less frequently compared to real-time patient care systems.

  • Pharmacy dispensing system: 30 minutes

Given the critical need for accurate medication dispensation, a 30-minute RPO ensures that recent medication orders and dispensing information can be quickly restored in case of downtime.

RPO mitigation strategies could include implementing automated backup systems with frequent intervals; using robust storage solutions capable of handling high-volume data; conducting regular testing to verify data integrity and recovery capabilities.

2. RPO Example: Bank  

  • ATM network: 30 minutes

A 30-minute RPO ensures minimal disruption to customer transactions, which are frequent and time-sensitive. Banks must maintain transactional integrity to uphold customer trust and regulatory compliance.

  • Core banking system: 1 hour

The 1-hour RPO balances the frequency of financial transactions with operational recovery capabilities, ensuring that recent transactions and account data are recoverable without significant loss.

  • Online banking platform: 15 minutes

A 15-minute RPO ensures that online transactions and customer interactions are restored swiftly. This reflects the real-time nature of online banking activities and customer expectations for service availability.

RPO mitigation strategies could include employing real-time data replication solutions, implementing fault-tolerant storage architectures, and conducting regular audits to validate backup policies and procedures.

3. RPO Example: Manufacturer  

  • Production line control systems: 1 hour

This system’s data changes are critical for operational continuity. 1 hour ensures production data is recoverable quickly to minimize downtime and maintain manufacturing efficiency. 

  • Inventory management system: 2 hours

With a 2-hour RPO, the manufacturer ensures inventory data can be restored to a recent state. This facilitates efficient supply chain operations and order fulfillment.

  • Supplier order processing system: 30 minutes

30 minutes enables the manufacturer’s supplier order data to remain current for timely processing and fulfillment of orders. This minimizes disruptions to procurement and production schedules.

RPO mitigation strategies may include implementing automated backup systems with reliable synchronization capabilities, using scalable storage solutions to accommodate growing data volumes, and performing regular testing and validation of backup processes to maintain data integrity.

Key Differences Between RTO and RPO

A recovery time objective (RTO) looks forward, focusing on recovery time. A recovery point objective (RPO) looks back, considering data backup timing and potential losses. RPO helps businesses establish robust data backup policies, while RTO emphasizes the speed at which these backups can be restored.

RTO Focuses on Downtime

Recovery Time Objective emphasizes minimizing downtime by setting specific targets for how quickly critical systems or processes must be restored after an outage or disruption. It quantifies the maximum acceptable period a business can afford to be without essential functions before experiencing significant operational impact.

RPO Focuses on Data Loss

Recovery Point Objective limits data loss by defining the maximum acceptable timeframe within which data must be restored following a disruption. It ensures that organizations can recover data to a point in time that aligns with their operational needs and risk tolerance.

SaaS RPO Tolerance Table

RPO tolerance depends on many factors, including application type. The below data from ESG shows the percent of customers saying they can tolerate differing amounts of data loss from their Salesforce, Microsoft 365, and Netsuite applications.

RPO ToleranceSalesforce
Estimated mean = 30 mins
Microsoft Office
Estimated mean = 27 mins
Estimated mean = 44 mins
No data loss21%23%11%
< 5 minutes worth of data loss15%13%7%
5 mins to < 10 mins minutes worth of data loss12%15%24%
10 mins to < 15 minutes worth of data loss13%16%11%
15 mins to < 30 mins worth of data loss15%14%14%
30 mins to < 60 mins worth of data loss13%9%8%
1 hour to < 2 hours worth of data loss6%6%11%
2 hours to < 4 hours worth of data loss3%2%7%
4 hours or more worth of data loss2%3%4%

Calculating RTO and RPO

For a typical scenario with a 15-minute RPO, where an organization aims to recover to a point no more than 15 minutes before the incident, the RTO would also be relatively short. This is done to ensure the recovery process is completed promptly after the last valid data point.

In practical terms, Salesforce customers with a 15-minute RPO might target an RTO in the range of 15 minutes to an hour. It allows for efficient data recovery and system restoration, minimizing the impact on operations and ensuring that they can resume normal activities with minimal disruption.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. RPO and RTO values change based on each business’ unique requirements, needs, and objectives. High-priority systems or critical applications may have lower RTOs, while less critical systems may have slightly more lenient objectives. 

To determine appropriate RPOs and RTOs for your organization, ask yourself these questions:

RPO Calculation Considerations

  • How much data do you project you will lose if operations are interrupted?
  • What is the maximum amount of data loss you can tolerate?
  • What is the cost of lost data?
  • What is the cost to reenter lost data?
  • How much will it cost to implement a solution that can meet your requirements?

RTO Calculation Considerations

  • How much revenue do you project losing if this system is inaccessible?
  • Does this system handle customer data? If yes, what SLAs are in place with customers?
  • Does this system have dependencies? If it went offline, what other systems would be impacted? What are the RTOs for those systems?
  • What customer-facing systems or applications do you have that would result in loss, churn or customer dissatisfaction if they were unavailable?
  • How much will it cost to implement a solution that can meet your requirements?
Source: ChatGPT by OpenAI

3 RTO & RPO Best Practices

To optimize RTO and RPO, keep these best practices top of mind.

1. Scalability 

As organizations grow and application usage and data volumes expand, maintaining an extremely low RTO and RPO may become increasingly challenging. Ensure your disaster recovery strategy can scale by regularly reviewing and adjusting RTO and RPO targets to align with evolving business needs and technological advancements.

2. Operational Strain

Managing an aggressive RTO for applications like Salesfore, for example, can put a strain on IT and operational teams. This can lead to errors in execution and coordination during the disaster recovery process. Make sure to implement robust rapid response mechanisms and well-defined procedures. Invest in training and resources for IT and operational teams to minimize errors and enhance coordination.

3. Data Integrity

Low RPOs might not provide sufficient time for comprehensive data validation and quality checks during the recovery process. This increases the risk of data inconsistencies. It’s important to be realistic about RPO times. Consider implementing automated tools and processes to ensure data integrity and eliminate the risk of inaccuracies in recovered data.

RTO vs. RPO: Making the Right Choice for Your Organization

RTO and RPO objectives help businesses balance the cost of implementing robust disaster recovery solutions with the potential financial impact of disruptions. Unrealistic goals can result in high RTO costs and RPO costs. 

Make sure to include all relevant stakeholders and consider all business implications when determining RTO and RPO for your organization’s key systems and applications, such as Salesforce. In addition, carefully evaluate your organization’s data backup and recovery solutions to ensure they are up for the challenge. Solutions like GRAX can be the make or break factor in your ability to survive and thrive in the face of disruptions.  

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