Shark Tank: Disaster Recovery

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But when local fire inspectors test that new Halon fire-suppression system, there's a problem: the new air-conditioning system is too effective.

"The air-conditioning system almost instantly sucked all of the Halon out, making it useless," fish says.

So the consultant goes to work on the problem. Within a week, large dampers have been added between the air conditioner and the new computer room.

Another test is scheduled, and this time, as the fire inspectors watch, the Halon is released -- and all the ceiling tiles in the computer room blow out because of the pressure difference.

"The inspectors asked to have a 'final' test 24 hours later," says fish, "but it would take longer than that to get the right kind of clips to hold down the ceiling tiles.

"Solution: Back issues of the magazine were stacked on all of the tiles. The test was passed flawlessly.

"No idea if those were ever removed and clips installed."

Psst! Hey, buddy, you want a hot workstation?

After 20 minutes on hold with tech support, remote site manager's call is answered. He waits another five minutes while help desk pilot fish confirms his support contract status.

Only then does he pose his question: Is it OK to use a fire extinguisher on one of his workstations that has flames coming out of it?

Aghast, fish urges him to put the phone on hold and put out the fire.

"Luckily," says fish, "the fire hasn't injured anyone or set off the automatic sprinklers yet."

A few minutes later, site manager comes back to the phone, gasping and choking. Between coughs, he assures fish that everyone is OK.

Are you sure? Why are you coughing so badly? fish asks.

"After another serious coughing fit, he tells us he moved the workstation out of the main office and into a small computer closet because the smoke was making it difficult for everyone else to return to work," says fish.

Stunned, fish asks, "Why didn't you just toss the workstation outside to eliminate the smoke?"

Still coughing, manager chokes out, "I don't want it to get stolen."

Alternative solution: Get a bigger lap

This organization's CIO is proud of the fact that his entire staff has laptops -- both the ones at headquarters and the ones in the field, says a field-staff pilot fish.

"In an emergency, they can take their laptops to an off-site location to complete their work," fish says. "There's only one problem: If the emergency is a power outage, the laptops cannot be removed from their docking stations."

That's right -- the undocking mechanism for these laptops requires electricity. Without power, they're stuck in place.

So fish, who works at a location with a history of power outages, asks for UPS units to provide the power to undock the laptops, in case power goes out.

Not necessary, responds a tech guru at HQ. "There is a way of disengaging the laptops."

Well, will you tell me what it is? fish asks.

Nope. "For security reasons, only the on-site tech support staff know how to do it," guru says.

So fish asks the local tech support staffer. But he won't explain how to do it either, except to say it requires a large screwdriver -- and replacing the docking station once the laptop has been pried out of it.

"Knowing this outfit, if we have a power outage they'll make us carry the laptop, docking station and all," grumbles fish. "But at least we won't have to haul monitors, too."

Down for the third time

This multinational wireless application service provider has a global footprint and big ambitions for growth, says a pilot fish working there.

But before those ambitions can become reality in the country where fish's subsidiary operates, the local operation needs a disaster recovery strategy.

"So the general manager hired a fiendishly expensive consultant to compile the strategy and a risk assessment," fish says.

That turns out to be a less-than-optimal approach. "The consultant stole all the documents produced by the tech staff and passed them off as his own," says fish. "The long and the short of it was, the promised reports were never produced, and the consultant got a huge payoff."

A few months later, there's a changing of the guard. "The big cheeses jet in from the head office in the U.K. and announce that the general manager will be leaving the company due to non-performance," fish reports.

"His replacement? The consultant."

That doesn't last long. After the consultant takes control, there's open revolt among the employees. And four months later, there's another jet-in from the U.K. -- and the consultant is gone. Again.

But not completely forgotten. "He leaves in a cheerful mood to go and found a disaster recovery and consulting service," fish says.

Things settle down after that, and fish and his fellow tech staffers go back to work on making those big ambitions for growth a reality.

So it's almost a year later when they receive an e-mail message from the consultant:

"Our disaster recovery services will be unable to receive or respond to any e-mail for the next three to four weeks due to a fire that damaged our mail server and premises this past weekend, and we are currently without backups.

"Could you please pass this along to anyone else you know who was dealing with us so we can rebuild our records?"

This time it's all trick and no treat

As part of its new disaster recovery plan, this Australian company takes out a lease on a secondary site about an hour outside of town from its headquarters, says an IT consultant pilot fish hired to advise the company.

"The place was perfect," fish says. "It was an old warehouse that had been converted into offices and a call center. It had everything, and the owner was happy to sign a long lease, as the property had sat vacant since the dot-bomb collapse."

Six months later, the company is ready for a trial run of its disaster plan and invites fish back to watch the drill.

"Everyone turns up at work and is told that due to 'biowarfare,' the office is unusable for the foreseeable future," says fish. "Everyone grabs what they can, then climbs onto a bus and off to the country."

An hour and a half later, the bus pulls up at a lovely piece of land, vacant except for some construction machinery.

"Where's our secondary site?" the company CIO chokes out.

"The site was sold two months ago," workers tell him. "We're just finishing the leveling."

"What about the furniture and equipment inside the old building?" asks the CIO.

"It was all just bulldozed into the landfill at the back of the lot," the crew's foreman says.

After another long bus ride and several days of witch-hunting, the truth comes out.

"A junior accountant had been given the job of looking for wasted expenditure and had come across the lease on the secondary site," says fish.

"Since the company had no business out that way and the site did not produce any income, he had deduced that it was a wasted expenditure and had the lease cancelled.

"The owner of the site had then, in disgust, sold the property.

"That accountant is still looking for gainful employment."

Special Report

Preparing For The Worst

Stories in this report:

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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