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Friday, 26 October 2007 16:13

Real-Time Electronic Vaulting

Written by  Nora Baird
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Despite a fully functional alternate data center standing ready half a continent away from its Chicago Operations Center, despite regular backup transmissions at hourly intervals throughout the day, and despite a full disaster recovery scenario prepared and ready to be implemented, executives at the Options Clearing Corporation (Chicago, IL) wanted even more security against the dangers threatening any transaction-oriented business that relies on modern computers.

In 1986 Sam Pincus, Vice President for Data Administration, reviewed E-NET1, a unique remote transaction logging software package.

While there are many utilities and procedures for making a “snapshot” backup of a database or file, the problem with this approach to disaster recovery is that the very first new transaction makes the backup copy out of date. To ease this problem, a variety of methods have been developed for storing a copy of all transactions and for running these against the latest backup copy of the database to bring it closer to the real-time original.

However, these methods are generally not good enough for a company like Options Clearing Corp. The corporation runs a real-time business with thousands of dollars or more, potentially riding on a single transaction. It cannot afford any downtime or any loss of data. Options Clearing Corp. is responsible for all trades of investment vehicles called “listed options” on the five stock exchanges that trade them in the U.S. It is owned by the five exchanges and empowered to accept trades from those exchanges and to monitor the number of positions in each exchange’s account. Options Clearing Corp. is further responsible for collecting and disbursing this margin money on a daily basis.

To accomplish this, Options Clearing Corp. uses the Cullinet IDMS database software running on two 308X computers utilizing MVS/XA. A similar system in New York is used for jobs in NYC but is primarily intended as a full-scale backup facility.

Obviously, losing the data from even a single options transaction would compromise the mission and greatly erode the reputation, credibility, and usefulness of Options Clearing Corp.

E-NET1 is an important addition to the disaster recovery strategy of Options Clearing Corp. because it fills the gap left by other disaster recovery systems. “E-NET1 gives us the ability to protect ourselves in case of a critical problem such as a major power blackout by quickly moving to our alternate processing site in NY. In our industry, that’s a major plus,” says Pincus.

E-NET1 works by continuously capturing all real-time transactions against a database, sending them off-site to “journal files” in New York City over an SNA/VTAM communication line. Because the data leaves the Chicago facility, no on-site disaster can compromise the existence or the validity of the backup E-NET1 establishes. Should there ever be a shutdown at Options Clearing Corp.’s main Chicago operations center, the E-NET1 journals in New York would simply be run against the most recent backup database to recreate the working database at the moment of interruption. Within a very short period of time, operations at the New York data center would pick up where they had been discontinued in Chicago.

Before committing to E-NET1, Pincus and his staff evaluated its usefulness by running it in a test environment for more than three months. Early in 1987 the decision was made to implement E-NET1 for the firm’s production environment. Since then, everyone at Options Clearing Corp. has been breathing a little easier.
According to Pincus, “There is simply no other equivalent product. Prior to the installation of E-NET1, any shutdown or malfunction here in our Chicago center might conceivably cause the loss of all transactions subsequent to our last hourly backup transmission. With E-NET1, very likely no transactions would be lost because every transaction is sent to New York as soon as it is completed.”

A smaller remote module resides in the receiving computer and does the work of downloading the compressed data, converting it to the exact information that would have been written to the log locally at the prime site and storing this data in the appropriate journal files.

The new remote logging facility is a perfect complement to the corporation’s existing remote fully-equipped backup facility recovery program. It drastically reduces the delay required to bring the fully-equipped backup facility tapes up to the minute.

Although it still may take a short time to recover the database after a disaster at the corporation’s prime site, Pincus expects to recover it all right up until the moment of shut-down with E-NET1 because the journal files are as current as the last transaction that was completely processed.

This article adapted fromVol. 2 No. 1, p. 12

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