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Fall Journal

Volume 30, Issue 3

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The place was in shambles, a war zone that dramatically reflected the effect of the attack on the survivors. A number of these people had been through the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, but this situation was so catastrophic that few of them could think clearly.

This was not ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001. It was two days later at the offsite disaster recovery location of one of Wellington Consulting’s clients with offices in the World Trade Center. They had just lost 100 friends and most of them had not slept for three days. Several employees, dispatched from other sites in Florida, had driven all night and were burned out. Yet, they all had a job to do. They were there to get their business up and running.

While no one wants to imagine a catastrophe of this magnitude ever happening again, our experiences with clients after Sept. 11 brought to light a few issues that many of us may not have considered when it comes to disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

Having served both financial services, as well as the non-profit community’s technical needs, Wellington’s real life experiences, and the suggestions that follow, may help you and your organization be better prepared for any type of major disaster.

Unexpected business data disasters happen all of the time. They can occur anywhere and do not need to be a headline-grabbing event such as an earthquake or major fire to cause serious problems. Actually, most data disasters are the result of a small mishap – a lost file that was not saved, a thrown out or misplaced disk or tape, an inadvertent deletion of a critical file, or a power surge that wipes out your media.

Any “event” that results in lost data can seriously impact a business; lost productivity, degraded customer services, liability problems, and decreased revenues are just a few of the possible negative ramifications. In the areas of e-commerce and transaction processing, the guaranteed availability and reliability of stored information is demanded 24 hours a day, making data backup and protection a critical business function. Today’s businesses cannot afford a data disaster; they must have a data backup and recovery plan in place.

However, admittedly, data storage and backup is confusing. Designing complex storage solutions is more an art than a science. The variables to be considered are many, and the debate among storage vendors is approaching that of a religious debate. The level of confusion among the end-user community has reached the point where some have simply abandoned the concept of protected networked storage until the market can come to a consensus as to how it should best be deployed.

Let’s try to put into perspective the ever-changing storage management landscape and talk about the many options for storing and safeguarding your organization’s most critical asset – its data. And let’s do it in simple, straightforward terms.

Since the Sept. 11 tragedy, disaster recovery has become a household word, there are even advertisements in Rolling Stone magazine. This has not been the case over the past 20 years.

Early disaster recovery plans, initially developed for mainframe computers, called for back-up tapes to be rushed to off-site locations and loaded onto waiting computers provided by outside companies. The process plan was to be initiated in the event of a computer failure or damage to a building housing the computer. In the 1980s, with extensive damage being caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, companies began thinking about preparing themselves for an event that might affect their computers and communications lines.

Two things happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s that changed the way big companies prepared for the worst. On May 8, 1987, there was a fire in a telephone company switching office, known as a central office, in Hinsdale, Ill. That particular central office provided service to 35,000 customers, and served as a hub for 50 other central offices to connect to long distance providers. Fiber optics and advances in technology had made it tempting for telephone companies to “put all their eggs in one basket,” taking telecom technology to the point where one location, in this case Hinsdale, served as a gateway to the long distance network for hundreds of thousands of customers.

Immediate access to current, detailed configuration settings contributes to faster IT disaster recovery and the continuity of business. Neglecting this part of the IT disaster recovery plan can add hours, or even days, to the recovery process.

Yet this critical link in the disaster recovery chain is usually overlooked or is poorly implemented. This article discusses the reasons that this condition exists, the consequences arising from it, and will show where having detailed configuration documentation fits in the disaster recovery process and how it aids in the rapid restoration of an IT infrastructure.

I will also provide an overview of how this link can be strengthened through the use of automated solutions to collect and document current configuration settings. Finally, I will show how having such information can solve some of the day-to-day challenges of managing an enterprise IT infrastructure with regard to compliance with federal regulations such as the Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) for those companies who keep consumer financial records.

Recent terrorist attacks on the U.S. have forced us to look more closely at our disaster recovery and business continuity strategies. We are infinitely more aware of just how vulnerable and fragile our economic and social infrastructures are. The need for truly capable emergency response, business continuity and disaster recovery strategies has been clearly demonstrated.

Those continuity plans that are capable of nothing more than passing an audit must be exposed and replaced with strategies that are truly workable and meet the critical organizational needs they are designed to support. For most organizations today, this includes ensuring the availability of critical IT resources and services. It is absolutely inconceivable to consider operating a large organization, regardless of the industry, without the mission critical technical resources utilized daily.

The availability of computer services is the life-blood of many organizations. This dependency on critical applications and data is increasing at an astonishing rate. Most large businesses would simply not be able to function without the availability of the computer-based services that enable the high levels of efficiency required in today’s competitive world. It is, in most cases, a foregone conclusion that in the event of a disaster, restoration of the corporate computer and information infrastructure must take place very early in the recovery effort. Availability of computer applications is as fundamental to the on-going health of a company as are its employees, electrical power or telephone services. It is impossible to imagine doing “business as usual” without the systems and applications we rely on.