Disaster Recovery Versus Disaster Prevention - InformationWeek

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Disaster Recovery Versus Disaster Prevention

Enterprises focused on disaster recovery try to minimize downtime when they should be focused instead on remaining online no matter what.

For many companies, disaster recovery means trying to minimize downtime as they try to restore systems and get them back online. A better approach, say experts, is to develop a plan that prevents a disaster from taking down systems in the first place.

While large enterprises have been making improvements in disaster recovery and business continuity plans since Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. businesses are still at risk, according to a report issued Monday by Harris Poll, which was sponsored by disaster-recovery service vendor SunGard Availability Services.

In reality, if a business needs to invoke its recovery plan at all, time and money are lost. It's just a matter of how much. The total time and cost required to bring a business back online depends on issues such as the sizes of files that need to be recovered, operating systems in use, whether the company has its IT infrastructure mirrored at backup locations, and the backup and recovery or replication software being used.

Mirrored sites can let businesses continue without interruption. But while the cost of mirroring is going down, it's still an expensive proposition for any company. Some businesses would rather accept the cost of downtime.

The good news is that potential downtime is being reduced, according to the survey of C-level executives at large companies. Enterprises anticipate that the average time to recover E-mail would be 9.1 hours; 10.8 hours for CRM; and 11.1 hours for ERP. Considering many companies have data backed up to off-site tape drives that could take a day to retrieve, those numbers are promising. There appears to be less down time than there used to be.

Two out of three companies from the study think they are more prepared for possible loss of information than they were before Sept. 11. But less than one in five think they are completely prepared, and less than three in five have business-continuity training for employees or backup facilities where they would work in case of a disaster.

Even in the recession, some companies are still devoting a chunk of their limited resources to business continuity. Already, 62% of those surveyed have increased the amount of money spent on business continuity, and about the same number will increase the amount again for 2004. Jim Simmons, CEO of SunGard Availability Services, thinks the survey shows that some work needs to be done, but cites a greater awareness about information availability since the terrorist attacks. "It's reached the board room, federal regulations have an impact, and processes include people now," he says. "Information without people is useless." Companies are making arrangements for alternate office space. Simmons says SunGard has 35 centers around the country that are within 35 miles of 90% of American businesses.

Nick Voutsakis, chief technology officer at The Glenmede Trust Company, a wealth-management company, took advantage of such a locale on July 7 when the power company accidentally cut power to all of 1 Liberty Place, the tallest building in Philadelphia. About 50 designated people from Glenmede's headquarters either went to the company's Wilmington, Del., campus, or a nearby SunGard facility.

Voutsakis planned for Armageddon with Y2K, but he says it got real with the terrorist attacks, and he learned from other CTOs and CIOs who were near Ground Zero. He learned to pay for redundant systems requiring no set-up time, deploy geographic diversity, and use multiple service providers for cell phones.

Power was out at 7:30 in the morning, and an uninterruptible power supply backup system allowed Voutsakis's staff to conduct a "graceful shutdown," with some core apps routed to a location 45 miles distant. All necessary apps were up and running at the SunGard facility at 11:30, after phone access was established.

"SunGard can bring resources to bear, and is at my beck and call," Voutsakis says. "It's well worth whatever we spend, with trades to complete and money to move."

Lower-cost mirroring options are becoming available. NSI Software unveiled Windows support last week for its Double-Take replication product. In addition, the vendor started offering NSI Enterprise Support that includes Web-based case management, guaranteed support-engineer interaction day or night over the phone within 30 minutes of reporting a problem, direct access to Level II support engineers for advanced trouble-shooting, and defined service-level agreements that guarantee response times, action plans, and support updates.

Existing Double-Take customer Sundt Construction Inc. thought about business continuity from the moment it set up its IT infrastructure. The engineering and construction company set up sufficient infrastructure in four different locations nationwide so a catastrophic disaster at one site wouldn't stop the company cold. Robb Good, VP and director of IS at Sundt, says it uses Double-Take on a server running its Prolog construction app for managing contracts because the server sits on a fault line. "Our other data centers are in safer locations and we run quarterly tests on recovery, throwing in oddball contingencies," he says. Good said by year's end next year he expects to have his J.D. Edwards ERP app for IBM's iSeries server replicated from an iSeries-specific tool.

Double-Take pricing for Windows starts at $2,495 per server for Windows Server, $4,495 per server for Microsoft Advanced Server, and jumps to $39,995 for Datacenter Server.

Analyst Jim Johnson of the Standish Group said enterprises rely too extensively on recovery. "If you have to recover, you've lost time and money." He says most companies are more cognizant of business continuity but budget cuts have forced many to pull back. Says Johnson: "The goal still needs to be an infrastructure so automatic that the time to recover is zero."

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