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Demystifying RTO and Its Impact on the Longevity of Your Business

Aug 11, 2023
Jason Mims

Unraveling RTO: The Unsung Champion of Business Continuity

The topic of Recovery Time Objective (“RTO”) it may not immediately grab your attention. Let’s face it, most articles discussing it can be quite dull, putting readers to sleep within the first sentence. Fret not, I'll do my best to make this subject as engaging as possible.

Think of RTO as the demanding child born out of disaster recovery and business continuity. Understanding and implementing it can be a time-consuming process, which may give off a vibe. However, when executed effectively RTO holds the power to rescue a business’s operations and reputation from disasters.

Drawing Boundaries: Grasping How RTO Impacts Business Survival and Resilience

RTO is a term that quantifies a business’s ability to handle downtime typically measured in seconds, minutes, hours, or even days. It establishes thresholds for what's considered acceptable versus what is deemed unacceptable when it comes to downtime.

Conceptually speaking understanding RTO requires some imagination since events leading to downtime can range from server failures or electrical outages to internet disruptions or unexpected occurrences like floods or hurricanes – even something as unpredictable as attending a Taylor Swift concert. However, the concept also brings clarity and reassurance to business stakeholders because it eliminates any confusion when a client expresses their concern about not having access to NetSuite for more than half an hour.

Most businesses can identify a computer application that's crucial for their operations. Let me share a scenario that perfectly illustrates the nightmare that can unfold in situations where meeting a realistic RTO becomes extremely challenging.

Reality Check: When Disruption Strikes and RTO Becomes Crucial

Tom Haverford is the manager of an accounting firm located in Indiana. The firm’s clients securely upload their tax documents through a web portal managed by its IT team. The web portal’s server is housed within the firm’s office building situated in Pawnee. It enables accountants to securely review content, communicate with clients, and exchange documents.

Now imagine: one morning in April, an unfortunate incident occurs involving a construction crew accidentally severing the internet cable to the firm’s office building. As a result, both internet connectivity and access to the web portal were lost. The firm contacts their internet service provider (“ISP”), who informs them that it will take four hours to resolve the issue and restore normalcy. To make matters worse, this is happening during their year-end closing.

During this period the portal will be unavailable, preventing both clients and accountants from working on tax returns. How might this impact the firm’s reputation if clients and accountants can’t use the platform for a period? Given this experience, do you think it would be wise for the firm to aim for a reasonable recovery time objective, measured in minutes or hours?

The Ticketmaster Incident: A Valuable Lesson, on the Importance of Quick Recovery

In November 2022, Ticketmaster devised a plan to sell tickets for a Taylor Swift concert tour. This being her first tour since 2018, there was high anticipation among her fans.

Ticketmaster had originally anticipated around 2 to 3 million customers visiting their website during the presale event and had based their server capacity and elasticity on this expected traffic. Unfortunately, this did not match the actual demand, with 14 million connections attempting to reach at the same time, resulting in server overload and subsequently disabling the ticketing system. As a result, millions of fans were stuck in online queues for over eight hours or were unable to reach the site at all and left without tickets.

The recovery time required by the server was so extensive that Ticketmaster had no choice but to completely stop ticket sales. The consequences of this outage and immediate backlash continue even now.

In response, multiple investigations were launched, including Congressional hearings and lawsuits filed, all compiling in major damage to Ticketmaster’s reputation and forcing them to release a public apology to Taylor Swift and her fans.

This now serves as a reminder of the real-life consequences that can arise when a business-critical application lacks a predetermined recovery time objective. Had Ticketmaster been aware that Taylor Swift and her devoted fans expected a recovery time objective of less than one second, much of the major backlash could have been avoided.

Thoughts: Embracing the Power of RTO for Uninterrupted Business Operations

Clearly, a defined recovery time objective is essential in planning IT infrastructure and has implications in real-world scenarios. Business leaders should be mindful of factors beyond their control that can significantly impact their operations. It is crucial to effectively communicate with partners and stakeholders about potential outcomes. Again, we owe gratitude to Taylor Swift and her undeniable influence for guiding us as we work to strike a balance between business availability and technology.

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