RTO Meaning: What Is RTO When It Comes to Disaster Recovery?

Recovery time objective (RTO) is the maximum bearable length of time that an application or a service can be down after a disaster without causing any significant damage to the business. Organizations can use RTO as a starting point to establish what kind of interruptions they can withstand and what actions they should take to meet their disaster recovery objectives.

This article explores more about RTO meaning and how a high recovery-time objective can negatively impact your business continuity and data protection.

How Can RTO Affect Your Business?

Disruptive events usually come in many forms. Machine breakdowns, cyberattacks, power outages, pandemics, and natural catastrophes can all wreak havoc on your business if you don’t prepare for them.

According to an Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC) report, the average cost of downtimes per hour has risen by 30% since 2016. A similar report by IBM shows that the average cost of downtimes resulting from a data breach is $4.24 million in 2021; this is a 10% increase from $3.86 million in 2020. Both reports found that lost business (including lost revenues, lost customers, and diminished reputation) represented the most significant portion of the downtime costs.

Because disasters are always bound to occur, having a robust and proactive disaster-recovery plan can bolster business continuity initiatives. This can enable the business to eliminate the risk of losing reputational brand, data, and potential revenue. RTOs and recovery point objectives (RPOs) are two of the most crucial components of any business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan.

While paramount to the definition of BCDR, RTOs and RPOs serve different purposes. RTO describes the maximum tolerable length of time after an interruption where business operations are retaken. The goal of an RTO metric is to calculate how quickly a service should recover, which can then dictate measures the IT department should implement.

You need to have enough budget and prepare adequately to ensure the systems recover quickly. For example, an RTO of two hours means the business can remain operational with downed systems for just two hours. If the RTO is one week, then you would probably reserve less budget to ensure business continuity.

In contrast, RPO refers to the organization’s loss tolerance: the time needed to generate the volume of data the business can afford to lose without causing significant harm when a disaster occurs. For example, suppose the RPO is 24 hours, and the last available usable copy of data after an outage is from 20 hours ago. In that case, you are still within the parameters of the BCDR’s recovery point objective. In other words, RPO answers the question: “How many hours’ worth of data can the business afford to lose or recreate after an outage?”

The values for both RTO and RPO can be equal or different for each service based on your business service level agreements (SLAs). For mission-critical applications, the disaster recovery objective values should be less. To achieve these values, you’ll need to invest in substantial resources.

How to Measure Your Recovery Time Objective (RTO)

Estimating RTO is essential because it helps you evaluate which backup and disaster recovery infrastructure best fits your business continuity strategy. Below are four questions to ask when assessing RTO:

1. Which systems in your organization are critical?

Critical systems are applications, processes, or components that are essential to business operations. Disruption or failure of any critical systems can impact business operations negatively and even cause catastrophes or social turmoil.

For example, even a few minutes of system downtime for critical applications such as online transactions can impact your organization negatively. In this case, both RTO and RPO for such an application should be near zero.

2. What is the least possible restore time for your systems?

RTO isn’t just the duration of time between the occurrence of a disruptive event and recovery. It also accounts for the steps that IT teams must take to restore the system and its data. For example, if you’ve invested heavily in failover services for mission-critical applications, then you can express the restore time safely in less than one hour. On the contrary, if the restore time is two hours, you cannot achieve an RTO of less than one hour.

3. What volume of data can the business afford to lose?

A successful disaster-recovery plan shouldn’t simply address the downtime but also should minimize or eliminate the volume of data the business is likely to lose in the event of an outage. In this case, you should consider the consequences of data loss to the organization and how long it would take to recreate such data.

4. How much money will be lost during downtime?

Whether it’s an outage or planned maintenance, downtimes often leave customers frustrated, contracts unsigned, and projects unfinished. This is costly for the organization—from lost revenue and productivity to recovery costs. You can use tools such as downtime costs calculators to help you estimate the business’s probable downtime costs quickly.

It’s worth noting that estimating RTO is not a one-size-fits-all exercise because each business has its own unique BCDR challenges. As such, different companies have different and unique RTOs and RPOs. For example, some organizations that operate 24/7 can have their RTOs and RPOs under an hour or aim at near-zero, while others may afford several hours or days of downtime.

To estimate RTO and RPO, you need to list all your workloads and divide them based on their priority levels. You can then set the recovery objective values based on the business’s SLAs.

Depending on the criticality of systems, typical RTO and RPO values can range from 24 to four hours (tier 3), down to near-zero minutes (tier 1) as summarized below:

Priority of the workload Description RTO and RPO values
Tier one (Mission-critical systems) These workloads should experience minimal downtime. As such, their recovery objectives should be instantaneous or nearzero. RTOs and RPOs should be less than 15 minutes.
Tier two (Business-critical systems) A business-critical system is essential to the organization’s operation. However, the organization can still operate at a basic level in the event of a disruption. RTOs and RPOs should be between two to four hours.
Tier three (Non-critical systems) These workloads can remain unusable after an outage for several hours or even days, with only a minor impact on business operations. RTOs and RPOs should be between four to 24 hours.

How to Reduce Your RTO Value

The top management and IT teams must agree on recovery objective values they will set for various workloads. Once agreed, IT teams should constantly strive to minimize the set RTOs and RPOs through technology and process enhancements. The shorter the recovery objective values, the less downtime the business will have to endure.

Below are some tips to help shrink your recovery objective values:

How to Test and Maintain Your Company’s RTO

RTOs and RPOs are only objectives. They are not rules or hard-and-fast guidelines that you can rely upon to guarantee an effective disaster-recovery plan. In this regard, conducting regular testing and measurement is the only way to be certain that their thresholds meet actual performances.

Below are three ways to help you test and maintain your recovery objectives:

Parallels RAS Monitoring Helps You Manage Your RTO

Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS), an easy-to-use virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution, can help organizations manage their disaster recovery objectives efficiently. The platform comes auto-configured with a suite of monitoring tools that IT teams can use in multi-cloud environments to shrink RTO and RPO values.

Parallels RAS has built-in granular permission policies that secure corporate resources through secure socket layer (SSL) and Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-2 protocols. It also supports zero-trust security architecture via multi-factor authentication (MFA), ensuring that users access only authorized published resources.

Organizations can also use Parallels RAS to conform to various standards, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Most importantly, Parallels RAS emphasizes an “always-on” strategy by prioritizing high availability and resiliency through robust load balancing features.

Test drive Parallels RAS for free today to learn more about managing RTO!