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What is disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery refers to the methods, practices, and technologies organizations use to restore data and IT access after a technology-related disaster.

Now that we’ve covered disaster recovery’s definition, let’s get into what exactly a “disaster” entails. Technology-related disasters include events like service disruptions, network outages, server failures, and security breaches. These events are caused by a variety of forces, such as:

  • Natural disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes.
  • Technology failures and power outages.
  • Cyberattacks, such as ransomware.
  • User error.
  • Pandemics and epidemics.

These disasters can cost large businesses millions, and some small businesses never recover from them. A strong disaster recovery plan could save your organization millions in losses.

What does a disaster recovery plan look like?

A disaster recovery plan should prioritize maintaining business continuity. Business continuity is the maintenance and restoration of normal business operations during and immediately following a technology-related disaster. A strong disaster recovery strategy facilitates business continuity by optimizing security, threat and failure detection, data redundancy, and data recovery time.

In recent years, disaster recovery plans based on cloud computing have grown in popularity, in large part because they make it cheaper to maintain business continuity. Without a cloud-based backup of data and infrastructure, you must rely on on-premises backup options. This requires maintaining a second datacenter far enough away that it’s not affected by the same circumstances (such as power outages) as your primary datacenter. Obviously, building and maintaining a second datacenter can be an expensive undertaking, and one that grows depending on the type of backup your organization requires. 

Disaster recovery in action

Let’s say a natural disaster, such as a flood, destroys an organization’s primary datacenter. If that organization has a disaster recovery strategy in place, it’s much more likely to recover essential data. There are a few different methods for backup that the organization could have employed ahead of time to quickly recover from this scenario:

  • Replication of critical data at a secondary datacenter at a different physical location. Replication is when data is perpetually copied to another datacenter. Often, the secondary datacenter is owned by a cloud services provider.  
  • A removable drive stored at the primary datacenter. If removed before a disaster occurs, the drive can be used to restore the data at another datacenter.
  • An offsite datacenter that stores data at a secondary datacenter. A secondary datacenter should be far enough away from the primary datacenter that it wouldn’t be affected by the same disaster. Using this method requires the data to be backed up to the offsite center regularly.  
  • A cloud-based backup service, such as Azure Backup, that automatically backs up the data to the cloud. This method is often more cost-effective than on-premises options.

These backup methods are also effective if your organization’s data is compromised from a security breach. Take, for example, a ransomware attack. During a ransomware attack, a cybercriminal installs malicious software that that locks sensitive data and/or business critical systems and demands a ransom for access. If your organization has securely backed up its critical data using one of the methods outlined above, the potential impact of ransomware and other cyberattacks can be greatly lessened.  

Creating a disaster recovery plan

Disaster recovery planning starts with the formation of a disaster recovery team to identify critical systems and data. That team should draft the disaster recovery plan around ensuring that data is as secure as possible to prevent losses, and corrective measures that ensure access and critical data is regained as soon as possible if it’s lost.

A disaster recovery plan should prioritize two key metrics: recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO):

  • RTO determines the amount of time that it takes your organization to restore essential access, data, and functionalities after a technology-related disaster.
  • RPO, on the other hand, refers to the amount of time it can take your organization to restore essential functionalities and access to data before incurring major losses. RPO determines how often you should back up essential data. For example, if your organization’s RPO is four hours, your critical data should be backed up at least every 4 hours.

After you’ve outlined a disaster recovery plan to achieve RPO, you’ll need to fine-tune it. Here are some disaster recovery best practices:

  1. Take compliance and regulatory considerations into account when drafting and updating your disaster recovery plans. In many regions, data privacy laws require disaster recovery plans are in place to protect sensitive data. These laws and regulations should be an integral part of your organization’s disaster recovery strategy. Failure to quickly recover compromised data after a disaster can lead to compliance violations and fines.
  2. Test your disaster recovery plan regularly and work to identify emerging new threats. It’s not enough to have a disaster recovery plan in place: regularly test the plan and adjust it as new threats emerge. This ensures that you’re not caught off guard by the scale or novelty of a technology-related disaster.
  3. Train employees on disaster recovery procedures. Employees that are prepared for a disaster in advance are much more likely to successfully execute their role during disaster recovery.

As outlined in the previous section, there are a few different methods for achieving data redundancy. Your disaster recovery team should determine which of them would be the most effective way to back up essential data based on RPO. There are also several cloud-based solutions that can help. Here are a few to consider while drafting a disaster recovery plan:

  • Backup and disaster recovery solutions back up data by storing it in the cloud. Cloud services providers like Azure offer end-to-end backup that’s scalable and secure.  
  • Virtualization is a service that backs up data and entire computing environments using virtual machines. This allows employees to quickly access their files and work environments if the primary datacenter fails.
  • VMware backup solutions help you back up Vmware VMs to the cloud. Vmware VMs can be backed up to Azure using Microsoft Azure Backup Servers.

These represent just a few of the many cloud disaster recovery solutions available. As you outline your disaster recovery plan, you should choose methods and solutions that protect the most important types of data at your organization. That said, regardless of your backup and recovery needs, disaster recovery in the cloud is typically more cost-effective than relying on a second on-premises datacenter. 

How Azure can help with cloud-based disaster recovery

Azure offers several disaster recovery services and solutions:

  • Backup and disaster recovery is an end-to-end solution that’s simple, secure, and cost-effective. Azure disaster and backup recovery solutions can be integrated with your on-premises data protection.
  • Azure Backup helps protect against ransomware and other threats. It’s cost-effective compared to on-premises backup options and scalable based on your needs.
  • Azure Site Recovery is the native disaster recovery as a service that’s built into Azure. Azure Site Recovery works by replicating your Azure VMs to a datacenter in a different region.
  • JetStream DR is a cloud-native disaster recovery solution designed to minimize the downtime of your VMware workloads and virtual machines when there’s a disaster. 


  • The primary goal of disaster recovery is to restore business operations and IT systems after a technology-related disaster. 

  • Backup refers to the creation of copies of data, while disaster recovery encompasses a larger set of procedures and technology that enables the restoration of IT systems, applications, and data in the event of a disruption.

  • Disaster recovery training involves educating employees on the procedures involved in restoring IT systems, access, and data when a technology-related disaster occurs. There are also disaster recovery learning modules available online through Microsoft Learn.