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We've lost the data.

Clay S. Timon, CEO of Landor Associates in San Francisco, knows that when it comes to corporate computing, success has its problems as well as its rewards. "Our company has grown dramatically in the last several years, so our system is constantly being upgraded. And nothing makes me more furious than getting back into my office at 7:00 at night, starting to work on the computer, and finding that the system is down because it's being serviced. There have been times when the network is shut down and I'm right in the middle of a document - and when the system comes back up, the document has disappeared into cyberspace."

To Timon, that personal aggravation suggests larger potential problems. "The worst-case scenario would be for the whole system to shut down, and when it comes back up, everything has been erased - because today, so much file-keeping is done on servers." In particular, Timon frets about losing the data on Landor's intranet, which has become the digital backbone of the branding and design consulting firm. "We have taken several years to build this thing, and we are constantly adding more information to it. If that all suddenly disappeared, we'd be back to square one, having to start all over again." Working without the intranet, he says, "would be like fighting with one arm tied behind our back."

To avoid data losses, Landor employees regularly back up files; "it's really only the executives who sit down to bat out a quick document who forget," Timon says. He also recommends making IT purchasing decisions with a long-term view. "I would simply say, you cannot overbuild your system. Every day you realize your system is behind, not ahead, of where your business is."

Constant change is just one of many reasons that systems go on the blink and data goes down the drain. A major culprit: the rise of distributed systems, which has multiplied the potential points of failure and made it harder to watch those points. "There are most likely somewhere between 15 million and 30 million computers out there running corporate assets, and many of those computer facilities are not professionally managed - they are just stuck in a closet or something," says Paul Strassmann, a former CIO who is now the CEO of Software Testing Assurance Corp. in Stamford, CT. "Professionalism and the overhead that was associated with central processing had to be abandoned because it became unaffordable. In fact, much of distributed processing has been justified by eliminating that overhead." Thus, CEOs who want to prevent the loss of data need to make sure that some of the traditional discipline and control associated with centralized computing is extended to departmental PCs and servers, as well.

But even in the climate-controlled world of the data center, there are some problems that simply can't be avoided. In recent years, central corporate computers have been crippled by more than 100 different kinds of events, ranging from power outages and floods to bombs, plane crashes, and shotgun blasts, according to Lee Adler, president of Contingency Planning Research (CPR) in Livingston, NJ. There is, in fact, no surefire way to fend off such disasters, he says. "Some people say, 'We're OK, because we have multiple substations or multiple [power] feeds coining in.' And I point them to the ice storm this past winter that took out the whole of Quebec."

"We have redundancy; we retain tapes off the premises in separate locations; and we have redundant sister systems that are available in case of a breakdown or a failure of any significance," says Lewis Golub, CEO of the Golub Corp. in Schenectady, NY. "We could be back in business in another location in a matter of minutes. So we've done the normal protective type of things." But, he adds, "Is it foolproof? No."

The point is, plan for trouble, because you'll probably have it. Most major organizations have some kind of disaster-recovery plan in place, but many observers note that those plans may not be thorough enough or current enough.

Computers and business operations have become closely intertwined, and yesterday's disaster-recovery, planning - which emphasized getting computer systems back up - is now giving way to broader business continuity planning. "There are really two pieces to the puzzle," says Bruce Watrous, principal at Hannah-Watrous Continuity Strategies in Hartford, CT. "You have to be able to restore the data, and then you have to make sure that the business unit itself is able to relocate critical functions and is able to have connectivity to the IT. Having the machines up and runninG is wonderful, but if you can't connect to them, and your people don't know what to do or you don't have a place to recover your business functions, that isn't going to help much. So it's not just the data; you want to recover the business, which includes the data."

Disaster-planning experts also say that many companies have created a false sense of security by drawing up a plan and then putting it on the shelf. "A plan that's not tested is worthless," says CPR's Adler. He recalls one client that tested its data-center relocation plan only to find that it could not get the alternate system running. The problem: The primary computers were not creating backup data, leaving the alternate center with blank data tapes - something better discovered in a dry run than in the midst of an actual disaster. Similarly, CEOs need to make sure that plans are pulled off the shelf and updated on a regular basis. "Companies change systems - not just IT systems, but the way they do things - so often nowadays that if they don't maintain a plan, that plan is, once again, worthless," Adler says.

In short, planning to prevent data loss is not a purely technical exercise. Backups and redundant systems can be expensive, and CEOs and other executives have to determine which business operations and data are most critical, and how rapidly the company needs to have systems back up and running. "It comes down to a business decision," says Adler. "You have to ask, 'If we all came in tomorrow and our building wasn't here, what would we do? What are the odds that that will happen, and how much do I want to spend to insure myself against that happening?' That's basically what business continuity planning is. It's insurance against something that might or might not happen. If that something does happen, then you are really happy you've got it."
COPYRIGHT 1998 Chief Executive Publishing
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Technology and the CEO: Nightmares, Daydreams, Solutions; Nightmares; preventing data loss
Author:Haapaneimi, Peter
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Feb 15, 1998
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