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Disaster Recovery: Are you ready for trouble?

Faced with potential catastrophe caused by anything from the weather to a malicious attack, companies need to make sure their disaster recovery plans match best practices.

By Drew Robb
April 25, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It was the Monday morning after the July 4th weekend. The power went out in the highest building in Philadelphia. Not to worry, the disaster recovery (DR) specialists had that one covered—the building had a connection to a separate part of the grid. But then the repair crew accidentally severed the backup connection.

Ready for Trouble?
Image Credit: Polly Becker

"Every disaster has a different face, so no one can accurately predict," says Nick Voutsakis, chief technology officer at Glenmede Trust Co., a wealth management firm whose headquarters occupies four floors of that building in Philly. "Your planning has to be flexible enough to cope."

Incidents like this one give businesses a chance to see their DR technology in action. While some companies pass with flying colors, the plans of others are exposed as incomplete, unrealistic and technologically flawed. So, what are the tried-and-true best practices, what technologies should be deployed, and how should IT cooperate with the organization as a whole in order to take all necessary precautions?

"Those companies with untested or poorly tested plans will eventually discover that they aren't as protected as they thought they were," says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc. in Boulder, Colo.

Planning for the Unplanned

Some DR plans are too simplistic, don't mesh with the real world and have little value in an emergency. Others are complex tomes that nobody reads. According to Voutsakis, the trick is finding a balance.

But even companies with well-compiled plans can look foolish if nobody can find the plan when they need it. It's no good if it's lost in a binder or in a PC that's down because of the disaster. So keep copies of the plan in multiple locations.

"We include copies of our plan in the emergency packs we provide to employees containing food, medical supplies, flashlights and so on," says Voutsakis.

Glenmede is primarily a Windows 2000/XP shop that uses Cisco Systems Inc. switches and Dell Inc. servers and desktops. Its DR plan has several layers, depending on the situation. If people can't get to work because of excessive snow, the servers keep running at headquarters and the staff works securely from home. If the building's power goes out, the critical systems can be brought up within four hours at a "hot site" across town owned by business continuity services and outsourcing provider SunGard Availability Services Inc., a unit of SunGard Data Systems Inc. If an event keeps employees out of the building for a week, desktops for key personnel are standing by at SunGard.

During the Independence Day weekend outage, Glenmede's management declared an emergency at 7:30 a.m. Since all data is replicated to the hot site, the company had all systems running by 11.30 a.m. But it takes a well-oiled machine to pull that off smoothly. And that means teamwork.

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