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Winter Journal

Volume 31, Issue 4

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Computerm Channel Extension Plays Key Role in Facilitating
Check Processing Backup and Recovery

When two separate tornadoes tore through downtown Nashville, Tenn., on the afternoon of April 16, they damaged five of NationBank's facilities, including our regional check processing facility. There were many tense moments that night for many people in the Nashville area, which was declared a federal disaster area with more than $100 million in damage. Fortunately, NationsBank, with the help of vendors like Computerm Corporation and Comdisco, was ready to meet just such a contingency. As a result of the recovery plan we had in place, we were able to avert a disruption to our business and any negative impact to our customers.

Developing the Plan

When developing a business continuity/recovery plan, one learns to expect the unexpected. No area of the country, or the world for that matter, carries a "zero" probability of some type of business-disrupting disaster, whether it be a tornado, hurricane, flood, earthquake, fire, explosion, power outage, etc. From a network technology perspective, any business continuity/recovery plan requires having all the pieces in place to ensure a smooth transition when an outage or failure occurs.

In the banking industry, the federal government has stringent requirements for business recovery, and reviews the status of compliance regularly. But even without that requirement, contingency preparedness is just plain good business. When your data represents the very life blood of your business, as is the case in the financial sector, you need to prepare for just about any contingency.

We knew that if any of our 15 Item Processing (IP) centers went down, we would need to be able to process data and operate peripherals (check sorter, printers, and CRT controllers) from some geographically removed location.

To implement this plan, NationsBank worked with Computerm Corporation, a leading channel extension provider, and Comdisco, a leading business continuity provider and disaster recovery provider, to put an appropriate recovery program in place. Channel extension allows remote, channel-attached mainframe peripherals to operate at rated speed, as if they were directly connected to the CPU. With this capability, devices can be located any distance from the mainframe and run without performance degradation. The disaster recovery provider offers facilities and services to maintain or resume business in the event of a disaster.

NationsBank used Computerm VMC' (Virtual Mainframe Channel') 8100 series channel extenders to connect its mainframe in Baltimore to the IBM 3890 check sorters, IBM 4245 printers, and IBM 3274 CRT controllers in Nashville via a 512 frame forwarding data connection. At the same time, NationsBank located a VMC 8100 series channel extender at Comdisco's check-processing recovery site based in Norcross, Ga., just outside of Atlanta. As part of the plan, Comdisco's Norcross recovery center would make available a variety of peripherals to back up any of the 15 IP centers. In the event of a disaster-related failure in Nashville, we could easily switch the remote channel extension target from Nashville to Norcross and meet our obligation to process and clear customer checks. 

The Disaster Hits

Shortly after NationsBank Nashville facilities were damaged by the highly destructive tornadoes that swept through the downtown area, we declared a disaster to Comdisco and had the opportunity to test the reliability of our contingency plan. The disaster was officially declared at 9:45 p.m. on the evening of April 16, and steps were taken to remotely switch the Computerm channel extension link from Baltimore/Nashville to Baltimore/Norcross.

The NationsBank technical team working closely with Computerm staff completed the data communications swing from Nashville to Norcross in only three and a half hours. We were pleased that the systems were enabled so quickly, considering that we typically target 6-8 hours for a recovery swing. In the meantime, NationsBank sent 150 employees from 11 different cities to Norcross to process checks at the recovery facility. A total of 750,000 checks were shipped via air and truck from Nashville to Norcross. When the check processing staff arrived on the morning of April 17, a Friday, they were able to process the checks without a hitch. Check processing continued at Norcross through Saturday, April 18, when NationsBank was given clearance to reoccupy its Nashville facility, following a structural analysis of the building. The check-processing connection to Norcross, which was made possible through Computerm VMC channel extension systems, was switched back to Nashville Saturday evening.

Over the two-day occupation of the Comdisco recovery facility, NationsBank was able to process and clear approximately 750,000 checks representing a total of $500 million.

DR/CP More Than Storage

Many people think that disaster recovery and contingency planning is just storing mission critical data off site; however, this is one example of how a disaster can affect business operations that are the pulse of the organization - in this case clearing checks through the bank. At NationsBank, we have found it essential to have integrated contingency plans for all aspects of our operations; including a secondary CPU, an alternate processing center, data stored remotely, and channel extenders for the data communication link between the sites. Most importantly, we had teams of Bank associates from across our organization working with our vendor partners to ensure that we provided quality services to our customers. Without one of these pieces, we would not have been able to continue operations successfully.

Conclusion

While disasters are an unpredictable threat to business, preparing for the unexpected is a necessary requirement in today's business environment. NationsBank was able to validate the importance of a thorough disaster recovery plan when the tornadoes came through Nashville on April 16. By working together with service providers and data communication vendors, we were able to maintain check clearing processing even though the disaster caused us to vacate our building and leave behind our equipment. The recovery effort handled 1.2 million items and allowed us to process and preserve $500 million in business, as if no disaster-related disruption had occurred.


Editor's Note: NationsBank and Bank of America have recently merged. NationsBank is now known as Bank of America.



Charles M. Wallen is VP & Manager Contingency Preparedness - Transaction Services NationsBanc Services, Inc.