Understanding RTO and RPO in Backup Strategies

SimpleBackups founder

Laurent Lemaire

Co-founder, SimpleBackups

November 17, 2023

Within the data privacy and security sector, the terms Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) get thrown around quite a bit.

In a nutshell, these are objectives each organization sets to ensure the rapid recovery of business processes after a data loss incident such as a cyberattack, user error, virus, hardware malfunction, and other unforeseen events.

But what do these parameters mean exactly? Why should you care about them?

In this article, we’ll look closer at the RTO and the RPO and what they mean for data security and recovery.

Defining RTO and RPO in Backup Strategies

First, let’s take a closer look at what these terms mean.

The Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is how fast you restore a business process after a disaster or an unforseen event.

The Recovery Point Objective (RPO), on the other hand, refers to how much data that can safely be lost during a disaster, expressed in time units. A day’s worth of data, for example, could be one organization’s RPo, while another might strive for two hours.

Differentiating between RTO and RPO

Let’s start by considering what it would mean for an organization to have an RTO of six hours. This would mean that if the organization’s network were infected with a virus, it would need to be back up and running within six hours before you suffer significant losses.

If the organization has an RPO of six hours, on the other hand, that would mean that the business is equipped to handle the loss of six hours’ worth of data.

In other words, these terms refer to different aspects of the recovery loss. The RTO would be how much time it would take to start back up, and the RPO would refer to how much was lost.

Both the RTO and the RPO depend heavily on the size and type of the company and how fast data accumulates.

Assessing your business’ needs for RTO and RPO

It’s crucial to assess your business’ needs for RTO and RPO.

First, it can help you to tailor your backup solution, so that you are allocating all of your resources in the most efficient way possible.

Second, it ensures you have a clear understanding of what your customers can expect from you. During an incident, it’s great to be able to tell your customer the worst-case scenario of how long it’ll take before service is restored.

Here are some questions to ask when assessing your organization’s needs for RPO and RTO:

💰 Costs – How much does being offline cost your business per hour? How much time can you afford? What will data loss do to your bottom line?

🏅 Compliance – Are there any relevant laws regarding the speed of data recovery? Are there any industry standards that must be considered?

⏱️ Testing – Is it feasible, during both routine and random tests of your data recovery system, to meet your RTO and RPO?

📈 Data Usage – If you settle on a shorter RPO, then your organization will require a lot more data storage as it will be continuously backing itself up. A longer RPO, on the other hand, could cause the loss of large amounts of data. How can you find the middle ground?

Implementing RTO and RPO in Backup Strategies

Step 1 – Conduct a thorough risk assessment

Take a closer look at your organization’s data and business processes.

Start by creating a spreadsheet which lists all of your organizations assets in a single column. In another column, list each potential threat which could arise from a data failure.

It can be difficult to catch all potential threats, so ask yourself the following about each:

  • What would happen in the case of a software or hardware failure?
  • Is this asset susceptible to cyberattacks, viruses, and malware?
  • Is your data and technology be safe from natural disasters?
  • Could a human error or negligence affect this asset?
  • What industry, local, state, and federal standards and regulations are applicable?

Be sure to involve more than just yourself in this process. Members of your IT department, employees who routinely access critical data, and others in senior roles, all may have insights into risks you may not have considered.

Step 2 – Identify critical data and processes

After you’ve developed a strong sense of your data and patterns of usage (and lapses), you must identify and prioritize the most critical data. This is the data that would be backed up first and, following a data loss, restored first.

Understanding your critical data will help you determine what the maximum amount of downtime you could experience without it suffering a blow to your business.

To determine if a piece of data is critical, ask yourself the following:

  • Is it key to your mission? Revisit any mission statements, vision statements, and/or business plans to determine whether the data is required to meet your business objectives.
  • Is it confidential? Imagine a piece of data were made available to the general public. If it could damage the company in any way, then it’s definitely critical.
  • Is it legal? State, federal, and international regulations often protect certain types of data, such as customer information. Mark any sensitive information to prevent a lapse in compliance.
  • Is it used frequently? Some data are necessary for daily business operations, so it’s important to consider your usage patterns.

Step 3 – Articulate RTO, RPO, and data recovery strategy

In this step, take a moment to articulate your needs, paying particular attention to the RTO and RPO. State both objectives as clearly as possible using time units such as hours.

Some organizations choose to store their data on separate systems, so that they can have separate RTOs and RPOs for different types of data and processes.

It might be best to illustrate this with an example.

Let’s consider a deli shop in New York City.

Their data would include the following types: employee data, financial records, inventory, information on vendors and suppliers, training documents, recipes, and website information.

This business would not need to worry about customer/client data because it does not collect any customer information. It also wouldn’t have to worry about records related to health, education, government, and many other types of records that have serious compliance requirements.

This business would consider the employee data, financial records, and website information as the critical data.

They’d likely set an RTO of thirty minutes. Every minute that passes where they don’t have access to financial transactions would affect their daily profits.

They’d have a little more flexibility on the RPO, setting it at perhaps several hours. Delis do not often rely on accessing computer information in order to provide services.

This company would likely opt for a daily full backup and incremental backups every half hour. This would allow for all types of their data to be protected.

Step 4 – Acquire backup and recovery technologies

➡️ Time to develop your data recovery strategy.

You have three main options here:

  • 👎 Invest in software and hardware yourself
  • ✅ Use a cloud-based, third-party data security service
  • 💰 Hire a firm to consult with your business

There are pros and cons to all of these options. On the one hand, investing in hardware is huge, upfront cost. Also, most hardware has a lifespan as short as four years, meaning you may have to make replacements.

But what if your business grows? You may find yourself needing to buy more expensive software and hardware with greater processing and storage capabilities.

On the other hand, there is no monthly cost. This may be a wise choice for a small business just getting off the ground.

A third-party backup service will cover most of your needs for a monthly service fee. This means you can simply connect with a representative online, explain your needs, and obtain a package that suits you. These expenses may add up, but will likely be worth it in the long run.

Lastly, an external data security firm will likely offer you the most customization and the most stable strategy for protecting your data. This option comes with a hefty price tag and a loss of independence, but may be worth it for those handling extremely sensitive data such as medical or educational records.

Step 5 – Communicate and document

After you’ve developed your data recovery strategy either in consultation with a third party or by investing in the backup and recovery technologies yourself, it’s important to communicate and document this plan.

This likely means creating a physical document, your disaster recovery plan. Having this document accessible to multiple users will aid preparedness and lessen the likelihood of user error, which can cause delays in restoring your data.

Step 6 – Monitor and Revisit

Lastly, the system must be monitored and tested regularly to ensure it operates correctly. Should your data and business processes change or expand in any way, you may need to update your RTO and RPO to ensure you are prepared.

An example

Let’s consider a growing internet marketing firm which specializes in accessing and displaying real-time analytics of advertising campaigns.

This firm would likely set a very low RTO: two hours. More than two hours of downtime would cause their analytics to become inaccurate and deliver a blow to their business.

Because they know their RTO, in the event of a data breach, they immediately send out an email to their client list which states that the system is restarting and will be available in less than two hours.

Similarly, they might set a very tight RPO of four hours, as data that is more than a few hours old may no longer be useful.

So, in order to meet their needs, they should develop a backup strategy which involves taking a total snapshot of all data every four hours. This procedure is automated using a third-party service to eliminate the need to be onsite to actually conduct the backups and to lessen opportunities for human error.

Additionally, administrators plan to conduct monthly safety drills which can expose weaknesses and unforeseen incidents.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Backup Strategies

  1. 📝 Collect Data on your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

    Whenever you have any data loss event, cyberattack, or other unforeseen event, document the actual amount of time it took to restore your system. This number is called the Recovery Time Actual (RTA). This can be used to help you adjust and recalibrate your data recovery strategy and objectives.
    If the RTA exceeds your RTO, then it’s important to return to the steps above and recalibrate your data recovery strategy. If the RTA is less than the RTO, you can consider this a sign that your data strategy is working.

  2. ⏱️ Test and monitor your backup processes

    Consider regularly taking note of your overall storage utilization and whether your backup schedule continues to align with your RPO.

    In other words, if you have more data than you had when you developed your RPO, it may no longer be a feasible objective.

    Many organizations take advantage of tools designed by third parties that monitor the effectiveness of backup processes in real-time.

  3. 🗓️ Evaluate your hardware and infrastructure

    Technology does not last forever. You’ll need to replace hard drives regularly to ensure their proper operation. Some drives will expire in as little as 4-7 years.

    An alternative would be to opt for cloud-based storage solutions. The company SimpleBackups, for example, offers services customizable for companies of all sizes.

  4. 🥇 Measure Impact on Business

    Lastly, take stock of your backup strategies and processes and consider how they are affecting your business. Do any processes prevent or interfere with normal business operations? Are there any expenses adding up and taking away from your bottom line?


As you’ve read above, developing a realistic, specific RTO and RPO is essential to any organization’s data recovery strategy.

Consider consulting with a professional data recovery specialist today.

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