Disasters and catastrophes have been occurring since life first appeared on this planet. As humankind developed technologically, the need for recovery capability seemed to be a natural spinoff. The computer related recovery industry has only been around for a relatively short period of time. This article discusses practical and contemporary concepts of contingency plans and recovery designs for today's business environments.
Change is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes changing the way we think is one of our most difficult challenges. Just about the time we get comfortable with our concepts, processes, and procedures, something comes along to kick our chair and wake us up. Breaking out of our warm and comfortable glass house is not easy. When we finally do open our minds to new ideas and concepts, we grow. This is true for both individuals and businesses. Perhaps it's time to rethink our deep rooted ideas of what a hot-site is and should be.
OmniCentric - The Term
OmniCentric is a new concept, and term, in the disaster recovery industry. It is a term created from two words with opposite meanings. Both meanings apply equally to the situation or object. Omni means all, everything, present in all places, having no limits. Centric means center, having a center, focused. A jigsaw puzzle is an example of an OmniCentric architecture. Omni represents the greater image of the jigsaw puzzle picture, and Centric represents the individual puzzle pieces. OmniCentric is a conceptual term which readily applies to contingency plans, recovery designs, and hot-sites.
A corporation is a little like a jigsaw puzzle; the structured compilation of many different and unique pieces (i.e. users, teams, functions, departments, divisions, etc.), interdependently locking together, producing a seamless presentation of a whole picture or business. If pieces are missing, the picture is not complete. Each unique puzzle piece has its own contingency and recovery requirements. Puzzle pieces, and indeed the entire puzzle, must be able to withstand unplanned outages of catastrophic or disastrous proportions to ensure the preservation and continuity of the picture, or in this case the business.
Business Recovery Legacy
In the past, usually centralized data processing was the only environment considered critical enough to protect. Contingency plans have not been as quick to change and progress as the environment they are intended to protect. Recovery design concepts, strategies, and techniques must also keep pace with the quickly changing technologies and corporate environment. Obsolete contingency plans and recovery implementations can jeopardize the survival of a business almost as much as the occurrence of a disaster.
Disasters typically have limited geographic range. A geographically disbursed corporation may have only a small number of their locations (puzzle pieces) affected. The rest of the corporation may be totally unaware that some have suffered the ordeal of an unplanned outage or disaster.
If one or more of the puzzle pieces experience an outage of significant length, the ripples could effect the corporation's ability to conduct its business. The outage impact is intensified when several locations are dependent on a single location's functionality (i.e. centralized data processing or telecommunications hub). An OmniCentric business continuity plan can minimize the ripple effects.
OmniCentric Business Recovery
OmniCentric implementations are a recent step in the evolutionary progress of contingency planning and recovery designs. Enriched recovery designs may provide some economies of scale. In some cases, multiple user locations may be able to utilize a single recovery site.
The use of electronic vaulting technology, located at a hot-site provider's recovery site, can reduce the amount of lost data, speed up the recovery process, and provide more immediate availability of critical information. Deeper discounts for subscriptions are often available from hot-site providers when multiple corporate puzzle pieces contract with one hot-site provider. Competition among hot-site providers sometimes yields lower prices and greater availability.
During the recovery industry's relatively short lifetime, hot-site design has paralleled the same general design of the data center environment. To date, traditional hot-site design has included functionally equivalent hardware, network connectivity, and space for system operators and a few users, at a single recovery site. A traditional hot-site recovers several of the client's jigsaw puzzle pieces at the same time, usually in the same location.
Single, standalone data centers with little or no connectivity requirements, few users and even fewer operators, usually can be recovered at a traditional hot-site. Most businesses are growing, sometimes into global expansion. Not many of today's corporations and businesses fit the model of a traditional hot-site. The data center is one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, an important piece, but just one piece. A traditional hot-site is more of an all or nothing environment (figure 1).
Hot-site providers are moving toward OmniCentric designs. Hot-sites are becoming more like jigsaw puzzles, too. Connectivity backbones allow different recovery elements (i.e. server hardware, network technologies and access points, operations centers, local access sites for users, etc.) to become unique and separate recovery sites, interdependently locking together, to produce seamless hot-site recovery capabilities for subscribing client organizations. The result is a perception that the hot-site, as a whole entity, is at the client's recovery site(s).
An example of an OmniCentric hot-site might have the central data processing servers at recovery sites in New York and Missouri; the systems' operations and applications' programming may be recovered at a site in Texas; large numbers of user departments may recover at sites in Georgia, Texas and California; network processors/servers and technical support may be at a recovery site in Kansas; and a number of field users, scattered throughout the country, may dial in using their PCs. The required recovery elements at the various recovery sites would be interconnected using a backbone network, as well as dial up access (figure 2).
Combining functional recovery elements (i.e. equipment, telecommunications, user access locations for data and voice recovery, etc.) into specific recovery sites, enables hot-site providers to utilize the required elements, either independently or together as a unit. Clients can then contract with a hot-site provider and subscribe to as many of the recovery elements as their design plans require.
Clients may only need to subscribe to a specific recovery element. For example, a contingency strategy may be to recover user departments and puzzle pieces in Georgia, reconnect them back to the corporation's unaffected pieces and complete the whole corporate jigsaw puzzle. Another illustration may be if the central data processing server is recovered in Colorado, reconnected back to the intact corporation's network and interlocked again with the unaffected puzzle pieces. Again, the recovery of unique puzzle pieces and their reconnection and interlock to the unaffected pieces, can be referred to as an OmniCentric business recovery design.
The overall OmniCentric concept can be likened to your TV set at home. When you turn your TV on, do you care where the broadcasting stations are physically located? It doesn't really matter if the station is broadcasting locally or from across the country. It is only important that you can watch your favorite program. The same holds true with hot-sites. It is more important that recovery elements operate as a single, well oiled machine, and not as important as where each element is physically located.
The capabilities of the new and emerging generations of computers and technologies, coupled with the diversity of connectivity options, allows OmniCentric hot-sites the freedom to spread out geographically while maintaining their ability to reach across the world, engage the client's unaffected jigsaw puzzle pieces, and make information available to users. Benefits not only include local recovery sites for clients' users, but also the potential of enhanced synergies of skills, ongoing education, and economies of scale.
New technologies allow corporate users, teams, functions, departments, and divisions, local access to the business information required to fulfill their specific roles. Hot-site providers supply local recovery sites, which allow clients to access their required recovery elements in an OmniCentric hot-site. Local recovery sites reduce travel costs. More users, with the right skills, are available to recover the business in the shortest time possible. The travel cost avoidance, added together with the potential savings of unnecessary outage expenses, will potentially save the corporation significant money. The savings may ensure the business's survival. The closer people can stay to their homes, the greater the benefit to the people involved and the corporation.
When hot-site providers combine a variety of hardware platforms, multiples of specific platforms, and common I/O, into fewer physical locations, the result is increased capacity (i.e. size, multiple systems or platforms, connectivity, etc.), increased available test time, increased disaster capacity, and greater overall capability and flexibility. The equipment element of the hot-site can standalone, connect to other recovery sites in the OmniCentric hot-site, and/or connect to clients' existing unaffected network. Significant benefits can be realized when costs are reduced through better utilization of resources, network connectivity technologies, and options. Growing, spreading and multiplying technical skills, assures clients of the hot-site provider's support abilities and additionally benefits the hot-site providers.
It has been, and will continue to be, challenging for hot-site providers to keep pace with the shortening computer generations and the variations of computers, the explosion of connectivity alternatives, and constantly changing client requirements. Utilizing OmniCentric design concepts allow hot-site providers to lessen these and other challenges.
Changing our concepts of what a hot-site is and should be will take time and may not be easy for some of us. It may help to remember that the goal of business continuity planning and recovery design is to keep the business going during an unplanned outage. When pieces of the corporate jigsaw puzzle are missing, the puzzle picture may be unrecognizable and the business may fail. An OmniCentric hot-site can better serve to recover one or more pieces of the corporate puzzle in ways that maintain the shape and image of the individual puzzle pieces affected. When reconnected with the other unaffected puzzle pieces, the business' picture is whole again.
OmniCentric hot-sites can provide local access to global business continuity. OmniCentric design opens up whole new areas of possibilities and benefits for both hot-site providers and clients.
Jeanne D. Powell, CDRP, is an advisory business recovery specialist with IBM Business Recovery Center in Dallas, TX.