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RPO and RTO – What is the difference?

Predicting a future disaster is nearly impossible, but fortunately, preparing for one and deciding your organization’s aftermath is getting easier. Their abbreviated names are very similar but RTO and RPO are two very different elements that should be considered carefully when developing a business continuity plan.

The academic definitions are as follows:

The recovery time objective (RTO) is the targeted duration of time between the event of failure and the point where operations resume.

A recovery point objective (RPO) is the maximum length of time permitted that data can be restored from, which may or may not mean data loss. It is the age of the files or data in backup storage required to resume normal operations if a computer system or network failure occurs.

To more concisely define the difference: RPO is the time from the last data backup until an incident occurred [that may have caused data loss] and RTO is the time that you set to recover the lost data. Try to imagine them on a timeline as illustrated below.


RPO vs RTO visualized on a timeline


Disaster Recovery Planning

To minimize the impact of a disaster, it is necessary to plan in advance, determining your organization’s tolerance for data loss and recovery time.

Recovery Time Objective (RTO)

RTO timelines are decided amid Business Impact Analysis (BIA) during business continuity planning. It is the result of strategies decided by senior management based on a target amount of time for the organization to recover its IT and business operations.

Questions to consider:

  • How current is my data at the recovery site?
  • By department, how much data loss is acceptable and have we quantified the cost of the acceptable loss?

Recovery Point Objective (RPO)

RPO, on the other hand, is viewed as your company’s loss tolerance, or how much data it is prepared to lose should a disaster strike. To decide this, management must consider how much time it can operate without data before its objectives are impacted.

Questions to Consider:

  • How long will it take to bring an environment online once a disaster or major incident is declared?
  • How much downtime is acceptable and have we quantified the cost of the acceptable downtime on a per application basis?


The main difference is in the purpose behind the two. RTO places a time frame on viable strategic options that enable an organization to resume business without the use of data, while RPO is a measurement of the amount of time that data can be permitted to be lost, and is not a measure of how much data might be lost.

Business Continuity Example Scenario:

If an organization decides on an RTO of 4 hours and a disaster occurs at noon, the organization’s services need to be restored by 4PM.

Say the same organization decides on a 5 hour RPO and a backup of data is taken at noon. The next scheduled backup is for 5PM. Any disaster that occurs between noon and 5PM can be restored to the noon backup, therefore resulting in a maximum of a 5 hour loss of data.

Disaster Recovery as a Service

Evolve IP’s cloud-based Disaster Recovery (DR) portfolio provides customers with data loss prevention and various business continuity options leveraging Evolve IP’s best-of-breed IT infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

The Evolve IP DRaaS Suite has been carefully developed to provide a cost effective and dependable set of products to protect the modern business. Many organizations are suffering from data loss and extended downtime due to lack of planning and technology resources. Evolve IP is committed to delivering a cloud based DR portfolio providing customers with better system uptime, reduced capital expenditure and best of breed IT infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

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