Disaster planning, mix-and-match style

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"We have production facilities in Singapore and at Skywalker Ranch [the home base for George Lucas, located on the same campus as Lucasfilm], and we rely on a core infrastructure -- the data and applications we use at each site, which we could use to carry on with our work," says Clark. "The architecture of the building is designed to give a little if there is a tremor. We also have 1.5-megawatt generators on site, and run our entire data center on UPS. We're always trying to improve our disaster planning, but we also recognize that we can't sacrifice the work at hand for any long-term plans that may or may not be that effective in an earthquake."

Clark explained that the creative environment in which they work has to take priority over technical plans for disaster recovery, including the location of the data center itself. A more extreme disaster plan, such as locating the data center in a less earthquake-prone area, would hamper creativity when the throughput was not as high without the data center nearby.

Earthquake risk by geographic region

Source: ComputerSite Engineering Inc.

Click to view larger image

The Uptime Institute's Brill says that a more catastrophic event such as an earthquake requires a plan for replicating data to a safe location, and because building codes are typically geared for earthquakes (as opposed to codes suited to other areas) the focus should be on contingency plans for data.


Disaster recovery plans for hurricanes usually differ from other disaster plans because there is a much longer period of time before you can physically access a data center again. Ben Weinberger, IT director at the Ruden McClosky law firm in Florida, says his company's disaster planning process is uniquely geared to the region. No data center in their multiple offices -- many of which are along the coast -- is positioned by exterior walls, and data centers are not situated on the lower floors (where flooding can occur) or on the top floors (where rain can seep in during a storm). Mission-critical data centers are situated off the coast, in Orlando and Chicago. The main replication site is in Chicago and would not be affected by a hurricane.

"We never put computers or servers near windows, and all servers are fully replicated now like they were in both Hurricane Wilma and Hurricane Katrina," says Weinberger. "If we had an imminent catastrophic event, we can switch over to Fort Lauderdale or Chicago using CA software replication with a few clicks. About 90% of the time you can see a disaster coming and be preemptive."

Although replication is not a new concept -- many companies in New York have instituted a replication process since 9/11 -- it is becoming more common in areas where a different kind of disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, is more of a concern than a terrorist attack. Weinberger said the costs are high for replication because it means running a secondary data center -- usually at a hosting provider -- but said the expense is worth it when data loss means a total long-term business outage.

Weinberger says one key problem with hurricanes, as opposed to another disaster, is the long-term power outage in the region. He says a data center could be left without any damage at all, but power might still be out for weeks or even months, which is why they replicate data to a facility in Chicago.

"A disaster has to be customized for the location and risks," says George Hamilton, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston. "For example, little if any damage was done to the archived papers, tapes and backup materials stored in Iron Mountain's facility in New Orleans during Katrina. Pretty much everything was high and dry."

Despite that, it still took a long time for Iron Mountain to get access to the facility to recover everything. A lot of businesses had disaster recovery plans that they could not execute because they never planned for not being able to get to the protected storage facility, Hamilton said. "The decision on what to do is largely based on how likely it is that you'll face a natural disaster," he explained.

Terrorist attacks

Most companies have extensive plans in place for cyberattacks, but a physical attack against the U.S., such as what occurred on 9/11, requires a more specific plan. Martin Silverman, IT director at furniture distributor EvensonBest LLC in New York, has extensive plans that go beyond the typical methods used at other companies. He uses replication software -- again from CA Inc. -- from the company's headquarters to two different regional sites. The company runs replication services four times a day and verifies e-mail to use as documentation in case physical documents are destroyed. He also has a disaster plan in place (similar to a fire escape plan) so that employees know where and how they can work if the building is not available.

Silverman suggests "employing an IP-based communications service that can forward trunk lines to a designated fail-over sites within one to two minutes automatically [if a catastrophe occurs]."

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