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Winter Journal

Volume 30, Issue 4

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Telecommunications is your lifeline in day to day business operations. Today’s competitive corporate world demands that we be able to interact in a professional and immediate fashion. No matter how sophisticated and advanced your telecommunications system is, no one system is immune to disruption.

Unfortunately, even the most comprehensive system is vulnerable to unexpected disruptions or disasters; power outages, storms, sabotage, accidents and fire are threats to your company’s most vital link. As you may be aware, the costs and hardships a company endures when these unfortunate situations occur can be crippling. Although you do not have control over the disaster itself, you do have control over minimizing your damages. The most effective way to do so is to have a contingency plan.

A good contingency plan provides a strategy for the prevention of service loss and assures alternate means of communication when a disruption occurs. In developing your contingency plan, the four following points of information should serve as a starting point for your communications plan of prevention and resumption:

1. Identify your equipment/service needs
2. Protect and maintain your equipment
3. Locate alternate sites/services for emergency use
4. Keep abreast of new products/services geared towards disaster prevention and business recovery

As the scope of corporate technology broadens with each passing minute, “technological fitness” could well become the corporate buzzword for the twenty-first century. With the ongoing development of state-of-the-art communications networks, most companies have become increasingly dependent on information systems to achieve successful business operations.

While advanced office technologies are certainly an invaluable ally in today’s competitive markets, many businesses often assume that their office buildings can adequately protect these systems. However, when a disaster suddenly occurs, a building’s protection level is put through the ultimate test. As recent catastrophes have illustrated, office buildings often cease to function during a natural disaster or crisis, leaving information systems susceptible to extensive damage. When these systems break down, even the most “technologically-fit” company can instantly lose power and profits. These ramifications have brought the protection of information systems to the forefront of disaster prevention and management issues.

Introduces a Disaster Plan for Data and Voice,
Providing End to End Disaster Recovery Service

The Growing dependence of companies on their data processing applications increases their vulnerability to unforseen disasters. A company’s survival can be threatened as soon as 48 hours after the loss of its data processing operation.

Awareness of the importance of disaster recovery planning has been increasing among companies, but few have effective contingency plans in place. With their fingers crossed, many firms like to believe “it won’t happen to us.” Business managers must ask themselves what the consequences would be if their companies were no longer able to process information in their key data processing centers.

To insure against the catastrophic effects of a random disaster--and in response to regulatory mandates--information-dependent institutions such as banks and insurance companies are establishing viable, comprehensive and cost-effective disaster recovery contingency plans for their data centers and are subscribing to the services of companies within the disaster recovery industry.

Disaster recovery firms specialize in supplying “mirror image” backup capabilities at an alternative location within a specified time frame. Referred to as “hot sites,” these are strategically located, fully prepared computer facilities with communications capabilities and pre-installed equipment that could backup operations within the first 24 hours of a system failure or disaster. During an emergency, customers redirect their communications lines from their disabled primary host to the reserve computer hardware in the disaster recovery company’s hot site, enabling the restoration of data processing.

Until recently, a weak link in the computer disaster recovery industry was telecommunications. The primary problem was in the cost of leasing dedicated redundant data lines, which would be used only in case of disaster.

Hewitt Associates is an international firm of consultants and actuaries specializing in the design, financing, communication, and administration of employee benefits and compensation programs. One professional group administer defined contribution plans (such as employee savings and 401k), flexible benefits systems and pension administration systems. Hewitt Associates uses Voice Response Units for the employees of our clients to perform such activities as enrollment of flexible benefits, and interrogating and transferring account balances between available investment choices. These facilities are very popular because they make up-to-date information instantly available to employees.

Recently several of us reviewed Hewitt Associates’ requirements for Database recovery in the event of a sudden disaster. Our approach to disaster recovery addresses the question: “How will we recover in the event that, without warning, our data center and its contents become completely inaccessible?”

Formerly it was understood and practiced that nightly backups would provide a sufficient base to accomplish an adequate recovery. In the event of a disaster, databases would be restored to their status of the prior midnight and we would advise users to reenter and reprocess the prior day’s on-line and batch updates.

Our new review indicated that recently our processing world had radically changed. Previously, users were Hewitt Associates (our employees) processing client work through our well-defined network of 3270 terminals. The theoretical universe of users was constrained to the several thousand 3270-type terminals configured to our network located mostly in our offices. Nearly all these terminals were in the charge of someone employed by the firm. Databases were available on a scheduled basis from about 06:00 to 22:00, six days each week.

Part I

The contingency planning information in this article is limited in scope to the tele-processing (TP) network and does not address the requirement for full restoration of the data center. The TP network discussed here consists of everything outside the main frame. The network includes the front-end communications processors, the telecommunications lines, modems, multiplexers, and the remote user devices.

Fundamentals

Each of your TP networks is different in some way from the others, and therefore plans can best be formulated after a careful examination of all the components in each network. This implies that a thorough inventory be undertaken.

Following a disaster, all your TP networks will not have the same level of importance in becoming operational again. You must obtain the recovery priorities from the “users” of the network. The “users’” opinions of the critical nature of each network and the resultant cost to recover must be approved by a management level high enough to warrant continuing your planning efforts and expenditures. More simply put, verify the critical nature of each network before expending a lot of effort and money.