Sept. 11 Attacks Prompt Decentralization Moves

Users try to minimize disasters' impact on IT

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have some companies looking to spread out their IT workers, operations and systems much more widely than they do now, a reversal of the recent trend toward centralization.

The goal is to minimize the consequences of a catastrophic event at one location while ensuring uninterrupted systems availability.

For example, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, New York's largest health insurer, had its headquarters in one of the World Trade Center towers. Despite the destruction of the facility, most of Empire's services went uninterrupted because of the money and effort the insurer had put into building a fully redundant IT architecture designed to guarantee continuous uptime, regardless of catastrophes.

"The WTC incident fully justified the effort we had been putting into it for the past few years," said David Snow Jr., Empire's president and chief operating officer.

New Strategy

But the company's scramble to find alternative accommodations for its 1,900 displaced World Trade Center employees—combined with the enormous task of reconfiguring and hooking desktop systems into the Empire network—has Snow rethinking some aspects of disaster planning.

"Part of the [new strategy] is to not have all of our people in one building," he said. "It is a much less difficult chore when you have to deal with smaller units rather than big ones."

Empire is currently building a new headquarters in downtown Brooklyn that's scheduled to open in 18 months. But not all of the displaced workers will move there. Instead, Empire will spread them across three facilities. Providing the needed recovery capabilities for such smaller units is easier than trying to do it with a 480,000-square-foot facility like Empire's World Trade Center offices, Snow said.

"More and more, we are getting away from a centralized model to a decentralized enterprise" characterized by smaller units linked to one another in a variety of ways, including wireless and voice over IP, he said.

The New York Board of Trade (NYBOT) is taking a similar approach. Despite losing financial records and some Windows-based applications that hadn't been backed up, the parent company for the Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange and the New York Cotton Exchange was able to restore many crucial services by the Monday after the destruction of its World Trade Center headquarters. The NYBOT was able to recover quickly mainly because it had the foresight to invest in a hot site in Queens, N.Y., paying $300,000 annually to maintain the facility.

More than three months after the attacks, the hot site continues to serve as NYBOT's temporary headquarters and is being expanded to hold six trading pits.

As it builds permanent facilities, one of the board of trade's goals is to separate its data center from the trading floor, said NYBOT President Mark Fitchel. The board is considering a triangulated architecture, with a trading floor, primary data center and backup systems in different locations that are linked in a fault-tolerant configuration, Fitchel said.

Even companies that don't need the kind of continuous uptime required by financial services and other data-dependent firms are spreading out their assets and information in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Harris Beach & Wilcox LLP, which was on the 85th floor of World Trade Center Tower 2, lost all of its paper files, case folders, e-mail and computer hardware in the disaster.

Now the law firm is looking at going paperless. All paper documents that come into the office will be scanned and stored both on-site and at other locations around the U.S., said Alan Winchester, a technology partner at the firm. The firm will also replicate and store core information, such as financial data, at offices in New York and Rochester, N.Y.

Harris Beach is also building more redundancy into its communications network. Wireless and satellite communications will augment land lines in the future, Winchester said.

Indeed, many companies whose New York offices were destroyed are considering relocating to multiple smaller facilities and trying to use generic, replaceable technology where possible, said Larry Tabb, an analyst at Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup.

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Backup Plans

The National Infrastructure Protection Center in Washington says new approaches are needed for disaster recovery and business continuity.

The basic principles of emergency readiness can continue to be the basis for addressing new challenges, but the following must also be considered:

The scope of disaster recovery planning must be broadened beyond its traditional focus on primarily operational issues to include backup security measures.

Business continuity and disaster recovery planning needs to be an enterprisewide requirement.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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