Disaster planning, mix-and-match style

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"Since 9/11, the rule of thumb is to move your backup center so it is geographically separate from the primary locale," says Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif. "The companies that did relatively well on 9/11 in some cases had their backup centers 50 or 100 miles away. It was a short drive but still far enough away that they were able to roll over all their processes to the secondary site."

Long-term power outages

Unlike most other natural disasters, or a terrorist attack, a power outage is common across many regions and requires a more general plan: backup generators, UPS used for servers and storage, and a contingency plan to help workers get back online and become productive at a separate facility.

However, more extensive plans are required in highly populated regions such as California and the East Coast because of an increased likelihood of long-term, debilitating power outages from power shortages and high use in the area. Pund-IT's King says the strategy should include having on-premises backup replication for every server in the data center. Also required is a disaster recovery facility that's ready and available in case a power outage makes the primary data center unusable. This secondary site should be in place, available and equipped for the power outage, but it does not have to be a permanent site.

"In California about three or four years ago during the height of the Enron scamming of the power grid, Northern California went through a series of potentially very serious brownouts and blackouts because there simply wasn't enough power to go around," says King. "The availability of power as data centers increasingly consume more power is an issue that I think is on everyone's mind. It's one of those things that is pushing the adoption of green IT and server and storage consolidation solutions as well."

Tornadoes

Most of the experts agreed that a tornado does not warrant as specific a plan as earthquakes, hurricanes or a terrorist attack. The reason: A tornado is often less destructive for as large of an area as an earthquake, and does not typically lead to incapacitating the data center as much as a widespread hurricane. Still, Brill noted that the data center location is still critical: not near an exterior wall or window bank, data replication to a separate facility, meeting or exceeding building codes in regions such as the Midwest where construction is more suited to keep the building safe from tornadic activity.

Tornado risk by geographic region

Source: ComputerSite Engineering Inc.

Click to view larger image

"It is relatively cheap to make sure your building is hardened from a tornado, but much more expensive to make sure it can withstand one and you can continue operations," he says.

Customized plans for the enterprise, critical as they are, are often the most difficult to create. Many DR vendors provide "stock" services that aren't necessarily based on specific disasters. Experts recommend hiring a local consultant who specializes in disaster planning for your area, talking to building designers about architectural guidelines for the data center and replicating data off-site at a distance.

John Brandon worked in IT management for 10 years before starting a full-time writing career. He lives in Fergus Falls, Minn., and can be reached at jbrandonbb@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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