Business continuity vs. disaster recovery

| By:
Sagar Kamat

Downtime equals big problems for a business, whether due to a cyberattack or natural interruption of service. Consequently, it’s critical to have plans in place to ensure business continuity during a disaster and help organizations return to full functionality as soon as possible. 

Since you’re responsible for keeping your clients’ IT processes and infrastructure running smoothly, you need to know the implications of business continuity and disaster recovery, including: 

  • Their impact on your responsibilities.
  • How they differ in their purpose, implementation, and goals.
  • Where they intersect to help protect their technology operations, data, and infrastructure.  

Knowing the difference between disaster recovery and business continuity planning couldn’t be more important: According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), about a quarter of businesses do not reopen after experiencing a disaster. You can give your clients the best possible chance of surviving such events with business disaster recovery expertise. 

What is business continuity?

Simply put, business continuity refers to plans an organization has in place to carry on operations in the face of some disruption or issue, whether it’s the building flooding from a hurricane or a ransomware attack that prevents access to critical systems. 

Business continuity (vs. disaster recovery) focuses on the where, when, and how of maintaining operations, including: 

  • Location (e.g., a temporary office or remote work).
  • How staff will communicate with each other, vendors, and customers.
  • Which functions should be prioritized while recovery efforts are underway. 

MSPs are essential to ensuring that their clients’ technology infrastructure can support critical business operations even during major events and that data and systems can be restored to normal levels as soon as possible. This requires detailed and proactive planning that spans all aspects of the organization’s technology hardware and software.

MSPs can help identify and anticipate possible scenarios, evaluate which functions are most critical, and create a plan for maintaining them during a disruption. This can include:

  • Establishing specific roles and plans to handle business continuity tasks.
  • Setting up redundant systems.
  • Creating protocols for internal and external communications.
  • Documenting and communicating the steps employees should take in such situations.

For example, if a client’s building floods, an MSP can use a comprehensive business continuity plan to set up temporary technology infrastructure at an alternative worksite or direct employees on how to work securely from their homes. This planning will help minimize downtime and ensure the organization can maintain essential operations while recovering from the disaster. 

What is disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery (vs. business continuity) focuses specifically on how an organization responds to and recovers from a catastrophe as it works to restore full operations. This type of disruption can be anything from a fire to a disabling cyberattack. 

Since most businesses today rely heavily on technology to manage everything from customer interactions to accounting, MSPs play a critical role in disaster recovery. They must assess all functions to determine which technology assets, systems, and processes will be impacted and identify any other potential effects. They then incorporate that information into their planning and decision-making. Disaster recovery tasks may include: 

  • Knowing where and how to secure or repair equipment.
  • Creating and storing backups of critical data and systems.
  • Testing backup recovery plans and systems regularly. 

For example, suppose a ransomware attack renders an organization’s data inaccessible. In that case, MSPs with a well-thought-out disaster recovery plan can help the business not only restore the data from backups but do so quickly, keeping interruptions to operations to a minimum. 

How do you set up your clients for success in the wake of a disaster? Learn more about various types of backups and how to select a backup and disaster recovery solution that’s right for your clients.

The difference between business continuity and disaster recovery

From an MSP perspective, both business continuity and disaster recovery involve restoring IT systems and data so that a business can continue to function. However, the focus of business continuity planning is on supporting critical functions, while disaster recovery encompasses restoring all business operations that rely on technology to their usual capacities. 

Fundamental differences in business continuity vs. disaster recovery include:

  • Scope. Business continuity has a much broader focus that includes but goes beyond IT  infrastructure and functions, with a goal of maintaining critical operations, functions, and services in the face of a disaster. It covers people, processes, and facilities in addition to technology. Disaster recovery is an element of business continuity that focuses on restoring technology systems, data, and infrastructure that support those operations. 
  • Goals. Business continuity is essential to getting an organization running immediately or soon after a disaster, even if operations are reduced to only the essentials. Disaster recovery can help support short-term business continuity but with the ultimate goal of getting operations back to normal. 
  • Business impact. Business continuity concerns all repercussions of a disruption, including the organization’s brand reputation, customer relationships, and financial costs. Disaster recovery is primarily concerned with the processes and timelines of restoring IT systems and data, not the impact on the business landscape.

MSPs need to understand how their services fit into both business continuity and disaster recovery to provide comprehensive protection for clients’ IT operations.

Similarities between business continuity and disaster recovery

As noted above, disaster recovery is an element of overall business continuity, but its purpose goes beyond continuity to include bringing systems and data back to pre-crisis levels.

Business continuity and disaster recovery benefit from a proactive approach that incorporates risk management assessment and planning for multiple scenarios. For both, MSPs should develop detailed plans that spell out the steps to take to restore or maintain technology tools and infrastructure in the face of a disruption or disaster. 

Coordination among various organizational departments and stakeholders is a significant element of business continuity and disaster recovery. MSPs should get input from all parties during planning and ensure that teams can collaborate effectively during a disruption. Simulations and training can effectively assess these efforts' success and identify potential obstacles before a real-world emergency occurs.

Finally, MSPs need to be aware of any compliance or regulatory restrictions pertaining to business continuity and disaster recovery. For instance, laws regarding data privacy or industry-specific considerations may impact how organizations approach these efforts. For example, organizations may need to meet regulatory standards set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Business continuity vs. disaster recovery: Do you need to plan for both?

In a word: Yes. As we’ve outlined above, while there is some overlap between the two, there are significant differences in disaster recovery vs. business continuity. Both are essential to ensuring smooth IT operations and play large roles in the value of the comprehensive managed services you provide to clients.  

In both cases, MSPs should consider the specific needs and requirements of the client, the nature of its business and industry, and the overall IT environment. For some technology-focused businesses, disaster recovery may make up the major part of business continuity planning. For others, disaster recovery may be one of many components to consider. 

MSPs serve an important function by providing expert input and skill in identifying and supporting critical operations during an emergency, being able to anticipate and prepare for different types of disruptions that can affect IT functions. They also provide comprehensive IT solutions to streamline and scale backups and disaster recovery while ensuring all procedures and processes are up to date and in line with industry best practices.

In short, planning for both business continuity and disaster recovery covers the complete spectrum of potential disruptions, whether from technology-related issues or real-world events. 

How do business continuity and disaster recovery work together?

Because disaster recovery is such an important element of business recovery, they are inextricably intertwined. Backup and disaster recovery services play a big part in maintaining critical operations after an event and for incidents resulting in lost data or compromised systems. Some best practices for both business continuity and disaster recovery include:

  • Risk assessment. Knowing where an organization is vulnerable can help MSPs install preventive measures, drive more effective planning, and ensure that continuity and recovery proceed smoothly.
  • Business impact analysis. Knowing how operations will be affected by different types of issues helps MSPs prioritize systems, assets, and resources for various scenarios.
  • Documentation. Document all plans for business continuity and disaster recovery and store them in a location that is accessible even during emergencies. In addition, employees with key roles during disruptive events should be familiar with these plans and their responsibilities. This documentation should include key contacts and emergency numbers for vendors, suppliers, and other third parties.
  • Offsite storage. Store essential data and documents in secure locations separate from the main facility, such as a second physical location or a cloud-based solution. The 3-2-1 backup rule is a great methodology to implement offsite storage.
  • Regular improvement and updates. Circumstances and businesses change all the time, so business continuity and disaster recovery plans should too. Review and revise them at least once a year. Our eBook, 3 Reasons to Rethink Your BDR Strategy, is a great resource to help you find signs you need to edit and upgrade your strategy.

ConnectWise BCDR is a business continuity and disaster recovery solution that provides MSPs with peace of mind that client data is safe, secure, and accessible. Start your BCDR demo today to see how comprehensive features and customizable offerings can help enhance your business.


While some organizations may have a dedicated business continuity manager or coordinator who spearheads efforts, the responsibility for this kind of business-wide planning is necessarily shared among multiple stakeholders, including executives, department heads, and IT teams, as well as an MSP.

In general, a business continuity plan vs. a disaster recovery plan has a broader scope that includes the range of an organization’s operations and functions. Disaster recovery has a narrower scope, focused on protecting, recovering, and restoring data, systems, and infrastructure. Both are essential for organizations to survive unexpected events such as natural disasters as well as known threats related to cybersecurity.

A business continuity plan should always include:

  • Purpose and goals.
  • Contact information for key personnel in continuity efforts.
  • Roles and responsibilities.
  • Known risks and vulnerabilities.
  • An analysis of business outcomes for various scenarios.
  • Response options and processes.
  • Communication protocols, such as a phone tree or text alerts.

A disaster recovery plan includes many of the same elements as a business continuity plan. In addition to those listed above, a disaster recovery plan should also include:

  • Recovery time objective (RTO). This is a time frame for individual tasks or efforts as a whole. 
  • Recovery point objective (RPO). This refers to the time between data backups to mitigate the amount of data lost in an incident. For example, an RPO of 24 hours would mean that restored data would be a day old.  
  • The right platform. Technologies involved in the recovery process, such as a backup and disaster recovery system.
  • Contacts for vendors. These could be application providers, internet service providers (ISPs), and other third parties that help support technology infrastructure and processes.
  • Regular audits. Testing schedules to confirm response and recovery efforts are still adequate.

Not having a detailed and comprehensive business continuity or disaster recovery plan not only runs the risk of chaos and confusion during an incident—it can result in lasting harm to a business, such as:

  • Longer downtime
  • Higher continuity and recovery costs
  • Lost revenue
  • Damage to the business reputation and customer relationships
  • Missed opportunities for organizational growth
  • Ongoing financial instability

Just as it makes sense to plan for what to do if your home catches fire (and to take preventive measures like having smoke alarms and fire extinguishers), proactive planning for your clients’ business continuity and disaster recovery should be a no-brainer.