Even with prep, did Wall Street's business continuity plans fail?

IDC report slams regulators and stock exchanges

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IDC suggested that regulators and financial institutions need to discuss what can and cannot be done during widespread disasters.

In its report, titled "Sandy Surfaces the Importance of the 'Human Machine' on Wall Street," IDC stated that because of the sheer physical damage across lower Manhattan, it's expected that critical IT systems of many Wall Street institutions would not be fully functioning under full power.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy shuttered two data center buildings in lower Manhattan when their backup diesel generators failed, according to a report on the news aggregation site Slashdot. A third Manhattan data center also reported it was without power.

News and media sites crashed under the weight of traffic overloads as New Yorkers and others throughout the U.S. overwhelmed the websites for weather updates and news about Sandy. The financial information site MarketWatch on Monday posted a notice on its home page saying, "We are experiencing technical difficulties. The full MarketWatch site will return shortly."

"Almost every major news outlet was negatively impacted in some way, but specifically, CNN, Weather.com, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times had the most severe slowdowns," reported Keynote, an Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring service.

The Federal Communications Commission reported 25% of cell towers in 10 states hit by Sandy were affected by the storm, and more than a quarter of land lines experienced outages along the Northeast coastline, from Virginia to Massachusetts. However, that figure had fallen to 22% by late Wednesday, the FCC said.

Keynote reported that "almost everyone in and around New York City" experienced either full-scale outages of their Internet connectivity or sporadic performance issues.

Keynote's services connect to the Internet through AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile networks. The monitoring service said it experienced significant slowdowns or complete service interruptions, as cell towers were affected by power outages and by a surge of voice and data traffic.

"This is true for both Internet users of both land line high-speed Internet connections or those accessing the Internet through their mobile phones," Keynote stated.

While overall the Internet weathered Hurricane Sandy, Keynote stated there are still "lessons to be learned."

"First, it is critically important to build robust business continuity plans around your online presence," it stated. "This means having your online content and websites available from multiple data centers, in different parts of the United States or world, as well as implementing technologies to allow for quick failover to those redundant data centers.

Keynote also suggested that businesses test contingency plans regularly, with a special emphasis on making sure users can connect to their sites via mobile phones and Web browsers.

"Finally, recognize the fragility of the mobile Web," Keynote stated. "In highly dense populations, even a single mobile cellular tower taken offline can wreak havoc for everyone in that area."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and healthcare IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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