Skip to main content

Understanding the Difference Between Backups and Disaster Recovery for SMBs

By August 2, 2017May 5th, 2020No Comments

With a quick Google search you’ll see that there are different statistics about how many businesses never open their doors again after facing a disastrous event. The U.S. Small Business Administration states that, “according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster.” That’s a pretty scary number if your livelihood depends on that business.

So while it’s critical for SMBs to evaluate and implement business continuity with some type of Backup/Disaster Recovery Plan, understanding the difference between backup and disaster recovery is critical just the same. Although they are similar in some ways – mainly having a copy of data – they are very different when it comes to cost, design, testing, readiness and employing them in the time of need.

Let’s start with discerning between backups and disaster recovery and then I will illustrate practical examples of each.


In simple terms, backups can be defined as purposefully having a copy of data stored somewhere it can be retrieved and used for restoration purposes in the event the live data is corrupted, missing or permanently deleted. That “data” can really be anything stored on a computer or server but is typically comprised of basic office documents like Word and Excel files, pictures, audio, video, graphics, presentations, PDFs, emails and databases.

For most businesses, this “data” is used day in and day out. It’s the information needed for accounting, customer service, operations, sales, marketing and other aspects of the business. Losing the information could send the business in a downward spiral and have a severe and lasting impact. 

Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery, taking protection to a whole other level, could be defined as strategic IT planning to “recover” from unforeseen events or circumstances. It encompasses hardware, applications, data, storage, location, vendors, resources, accessibility, availability and other variables that a business must consider if they are going to recover from an incident.

What types of unforeseen events or circumstances could occur that would warrant a disaster recovery plan vs a simple backup? Natural disasters, extended loss of power, extended loss of internet, fire, employee sabotage and probably an extensive list of other unexpected disruptions.

Disaster recovery planning typically encompasses three forms of IT service to be considered – high availability, continuous operations, and multisite continuous availability. Risk tolerance plays a huge role in disaster recovery planning. The average small business budget will simply not allow for continuous operations if considered just from a financial perspective; the costs are generally too high. But understanding the true impact of the loss of mission critical applications or business reputation can make those cost benefit analyses more appealing, or at least more tolerable.

Deciding between Backups and a Disaster Recovery Plan

If you’re a small or medium sized business, it’s important to understand the options and weigh the risks of not having backups or a disaster recovery plan. As a matter of sound business practice – and at a bare minimum – it’s ALWAYS advisable to keep at least two copies of your data, one at the business location for quick recovery and another offsite. Data gets accidentally deleted, corrupted, misplaced, or overwritten. It happens all the time and we all know it.

But what if the circumstances were worse? What if your business had a fire for example and your servers were damaged beyond repair? You have all your data backed up at an offsite location. Fantastic, right?

Not so fast…what do you DO with that data now? What about all your applications? How do you get “back to work” and how long will it take? The answer is: it’s hard to say. You need new servers to install your applications and data on. You need a place to operate from. If you lost workstations, laptops and desktops you’ll need to replace those as well so employees can get up and running again. These are just a few of the complications that come with an disastrous event like a fire.

So what’s the bottom line?

Evaluate your current plan. Test your backups. Determine if you have the right policies and procedures in place. Consider a Disaster Recovery Plan. Protect your business – a 1 in 4 chance of never opening the doors again is a scary proposition!