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Tragedy could force businesses to rethink disaster recovery plans

It's no longer just about earthquakes or floods. This week's tragic events in New York and Washington have businesses throughout the country rethinking their disaster recovery plans.

The aftermath of the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and significantly damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., has left dozens of businesses scrambling to control the damage to their technology infrastructures.

Many of the companies affected by the tragedies, including IBM Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc., who had offices in the World Trade Center, have declared emergencies to companies like Comdisco Inc., Rosemont, Ill., which provides disaster recovery services.

But few have ever seen a disaster such as this. And, according to analysts, the way businesses perceive disaster recovery planning will never be the same.

Some companies might already include the macabre aspects of disaster recovery in their planning, including the replacement of existing personnel, said Jamie Gruener a senior analyst for the Yankee Group in Boston. But, after the events of Sept. 11, it is almost assured that the most unthinkable of contingencies will now become part of a standard disaster recovery plan, he said.

"Businesses are going to have to put themselves in the position of anyone who had an office in those buildings," said Gruener.

"Unfortunately [it took this tragedy] to raise the awareness of having a disaster recovery plan in place," said John Maxwell, vice president of product marketing, Veritas Software, Mountain View, Calif. According to Maxwell, Veritas had a number of clients using its products within the World Trade Center. He stressed that everyone at Veritas is concerned about the lives of everyone in the building.

A disaster recovery plan is put in place to protect a business' data assets and infrastructure in the event of a system crash due to a hardware failure, natural disaster or other calamity. The disaster recovery plan not only includes the obvious backup of data, but also contingencies like security access to the data and staff to manage the data. If a disaster recovery plan is in place and executed effectively, all business critical data should be recovered if the system at the primary location is lost.

In traditional backup and recovery operations, data is backed up on tape and then transferred physically to another location. Many companies, such as those running financial applications, use replication or mirroring as a data backup method. Replication copies the data synchronously through networks in real time to another location within seconds.

Although data mirroring or replication is the most efficient and reliable form of data backup, it is expensive and not all businesses can afford to put that kind of backup into place, said Maxwell.

"I think a side effect of this is that businesses are going to have to decide, 'do I need to recover my data in weeks or in minutes.' If it's minutes, they have to be replicating data," said Maxwell.

According to Maxwell, many of the larger companies within the World Trade Center, including Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney had disaster recovery plans in place with their data being backed up and held at off-site locations. He said those businesses in the World Trade Center have already turned to the data in their alternate data centers and most companies have an alternate network operation up and running. "The data is available now and can be accessed. That's going to pay off, Maxwell said."

"The Wall St. firms are going to be in business because they were replicating data," he said.

It is unknown how many businesses within the World Trade Center did not have backup plans in place.

According to a study conducted a year ago by Comdisco, nearly half of all organizations need their business-critical applications running at least 99% of the time. However, Comdisco said few are taking the necessary steps to ensure availability during a disruption.

The Comdisco survey indicates that 67% of businesses do not have redundant computer hardware at an alternate location; 79% do not have critical applications on standby at an alternate location; and 86% do not have a plan in place to ensure availability of critical Web applications.

Also, on average, businesses spend only 8% of their IT budgets on business continuity, which includes disaster recovery plans.

"I think there's been irreparable damage done to many companies," said Gruener. "In a number of cases there were whole companies missing."

Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor, contributed to this article.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor


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This story originally appeared on searchStorage.

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