The Line in the Sand: Your RPO (Recovery Point Objective)

The Line in the Sand: Your RPO (Recovery Point Objective)

IMG_0108Businesses and individuals are increasingly more dependent upon the technology supporting their various activities, and the volume and velocity of information moving through these systems is increasing at astonishing rates.  With the growing reliance on information technology and electronic business data, you’d think that more businesses were paying close attention to protecting these assets. I recognize that there is a broad understanding of responsibilities as they pertain to system security, and businesses of all sizes and types are increasing their awareness of the variety of threats facing their systems and are taking steps to address them.  Yet there remains an aspect of business data protection that too few businesses are really zeroing in on, and that is the time and complexity of recovering or restoring business data in the event of an outage or loss – and the absolute line drawn in the sand which says that “here” is the tolerable loss we can experience: no more and no less.

This line in the sand is referred to as the RPO, or Recovery Point Objective. A recovery point objective is part of the business continuity plan (or should be!), and describes the maximum tolerable period of time for which data might be lost from a major IT service incident.  The necessity to establish this time frame – the RPO – exists whether the business is small or large.  In fact, small businesses have data protection needs quite similar to their enterprise counterparts.  In an article in, Kieran Maloney of Quantum Corporation is quoted as saying that “from a data protection standpoint, smaller businesses face challenges that are similar to those of larger enterprises; the amount, and the value, of their data is growing significantly while their budgets are not”.

What doesn’t seem to make sense is that businesses continue to view data backup as a necessary evil rather than a strategic element, and spending considerations for creating and meeting a realistic RPO remain low.  An article in on the subject quotes Terry Cunningham, president and manager of EVault, saying “When largely preventable data loss conservatively costs businesses hundreds of millions of dollars annually, it is time to rethink your priorities”.  The author also writes that “while 95 percent of US IT decision makers said they have some type of disaster recovery plan in place, only 44 percent have remote, cloud-based recovery capabilities… More than twenty percent of IT organizations that manage between 2-7 TB of data suffered a data loss in the past year – in fact, more than half of this group suffered 2-3 data losses – each with an estimated average cost of 2-5 percent of total company revenues”.

Part of the continuity plan and a consideration in developing an approach which will meet the RPO timeframe should be the implementation of remote cloud based service, yet this has remained a low priority for many business owners.  Reliance upon more traditional data protection approaches, including tape backups and on-premises HDD solutions provides IT managers with a false sense of security and often cannot even reasonably address recovery from data loss due to hardware outages, much less for potentially catastrophic failures including loss of the location.

When considering the RPO – the minimum acceptable point for data recovery (or maximum tolerable point for loss) – businesses must look at their data management and backup strategies in order to address recovery approaches for various types of outages.  There are benefits and drawbacks associated with the different methods of backing up data, and the cost/benefit of employing any solution must factor in to the requirement to meet the stated RPO.  Daily backups may be the standard procedure, but is a potential loss of 24 hours of data acceptable to the business?  On the other hand, what is the potential cost of re-creating the data, if it can even be recreated?  Consider also that the timeframe for data recovery is not the point at which the last backup was completed; it is the point when the last backup was started.  This could result in a loss window greater than the established 24-hour boundary.

Many businesses would suggest that their tolerance for lost data – due to the cost of lost productivity and order activities – is far less than 24 hours, yet solutions employed to reduce the potential data losses often do not fully address the issue in any comprehensive manner.   IT personnel working with separate products to handle incremental data backups, machine recovery (bare metal) and snapshots of disk arrays often have a tough time trying to piece together the various pieces of the puzzle and often simply hope for the best in terms of outcome.

The prudent move is to thoroughly consider the business disaster recovery and continuity plan, and establish the boundaries for tolerable loss.  No business wants to expect to lose valuable data assets, but expecting technology to perform flawlessly is unrealistic, not to mention the unexpected impacts from acts of nature or other forces majeure.  Architecting systems to withstand service outages and having a comprehensive plan for recovering from system outages in a timeframe survivable by the business is the essential element to making a continuity plan worthwhile.  Draw the line in the sand, and then develop the system protection and recovery plan that will help make sure you never have to step over it.

Make Sense?


Here are a few data loss statistics for your reading pleasure… Enjoy  🙂

(stats drawn from summary on  They may be a bit dated, but the numbers have only increased since then.)

The following statistics were gathered from various sources:

  • 6% of all PCs will suffer an episode of data loss in any given year. Given the number of PCs used in US businesses in 1998, that translates to approximately 4.6 million data loss episodes. At a conservative estimate, data loss cost US businesses $11.8 billion in 1998. (The Cost Of Lost Data, David M. Smith)
  • 30% of all businesses that have a major fire go out of business within a year. 70% fail within five years. (Home Office Computing Magazine)
  • 31% of PC users have lost all of their files due to events beyond their control.
  • 34% of companies fail to test their tape backups, and of those that do, 77% have found tape back-up failures.
  • 60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within 6 months of the disaster.
  • 93% of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. 50% of businesses that found themselves without data management for this same time period filed for bankruptcy immediately. (National Archives & Records Administration in Washington)
  • American business lost more than $7.6 billion as a result of viruses during first six months of 1999. (Research by Computer Economics)
  • Companies that aren’t able to resume operations within ten days (of a disaster hit) are not likely to survive. (Strategic Research Institute)
  • Every week 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States. (Mozy Online Backup)
  • Simple drive recovery can cost upwards of $7,500 and success is not guaranteed


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