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Who needs a disaster?

Data processing and MIS managers say that any unplanned event which renders computer or communications equipment unusable is a disaster. This statement suggests how broad the disaster recovery industry really is.

However, most of the articles written about companies' disaster recovery efforts focus attention on the upper end of this broad market. The "upper end" represents Hot Site facilities set up for large corporations to use in case their computers or data centers are destroyed.

While the "upper end" is a significant segment of a promosing market, it is important to remember that the term "disaster recovery" represents a diverse industry, an industry in which there is protection from disaster for every size company based on the amount of risk each needs to offset.

A common misconception is that only large companies can afford protection from a computer or communications disaster. The truth is that no company can afford not to protect its most critical data; i.e., the data which drives the company.

Although there are many protection alternatives for literally hundreds of potential disasters, three standard operating procedures can be implemented to protect critical data for any size company. Together, these three strategies provide a solid foundation for protection against disaster for a relatively low cost.

They are uninterrupted power supply, structured backup and storage procedures, and partnership with a communications service provider.

This article will discuss each of the three operating procedures while understanding that the sum of all three strategies is much greater than the individual contributing parts.

Understanding and implementing these standard procedures greatly reduces the risk of failure and provides the foundation upon which effective contingency planning must be built.

No disaster recovery strategy will be effective if you refuse to help yourself by reducing risk via these three steps.

Uninterrupted power supply

Select a UPS system which will protect your equipment from the most common interruptions like power outages, surges, and brown outs.

There are two principle types of UPS systems: continuous on-line systems (true UPS) and standby power systems (SPS).

The continuous on-line UPS system has a primary power feed and will not disrupt operations in the event of a utility failure. These systems are the most reliable and expensive because they are designed to carry the power load on an operational basis and contain the added feature of power conditioning.

A less expensive alternative to UPS as a primary power supply is the SPS system which is manually switched to take the load in the event of a primary failure. However, this is a reactive approach to an outage because power is lost before the load can e transferred to the backup.

Even the smallest interruption in power can cause an operator to take several hours to reload the equipment. Another drawback is that the SPS system does not have power cnditioning capabilities. Both systems can be battery or generator driven or a combination. Although the battery alterantive provides instantaneous backup, it has a limited life span.

Generators, on the other hand, are more expensive and require time to start, but run indefinitely. You should select the system best suited to fit your company's needs based on the volatility of your most critical applications.

Backup and storage

A structured data back-up programis another standard operating procedure critical to a solid disaster recovery strategy.

There are hundreds of software packages available to assist with backing up PCs as well as small mainframe computers. Most software packages contain an incremental backup feature which allows you to backup only that information which has been added or changed.

The key to backup is differentiating between critical and non-critical applications when formulation a contingency plan, according to Phil Rothstein, a contingency planning consultant in Ossining, NY.

"Many companies make the mistake of backing up all the data instead of the applications which are essential to the livelihood of the company in the event of a disaster. Understanding which data is crucial to your company's survival gives focus to a structured backup plan and will greatly increase your chances of having and being able to find the right data in the event of an actual disaster," says Rothstein.

Selecting a convenient but secure storage facility for backup data should need little explanation, but surprisingly many mistakes are made when it comes to data storage. The most common is lack of facility management.

Most problems occur after the disaster when it is discovered that the wrong data has been backed up, the data is misfiled on the shelf, or the storage facility was not secure from the elements and the data is ruined.

Do no take data storage for granted simply because it appears to be the most straight forward.

Partnership with provider

For many companies, a strong relationship with a network service provider has become essential, especially those which operate large private networks.

Companies which rely primarily on leased dedicated bandwidth find they are vulnerable to line outage during many disaster situations. Building enough redundancy to offset this risk is very costly which is why large companies, in particular, work closely with communications service providers when developing their contingency plans.

"We have been helping customers identify risk and minimize the likelihood of disaster for over 20 years," says Don Murtaugh, Director of Network Operations for BT Tymnet.

BT Tymnet provides services such as adaptive alternate routing, allowing a company to minimize risk because its data is automatically and transparently re-routed around a line or link failure.

Multi-targeting features are also provided, allowing customs to specify a backup host facility to which calls will be automatically routed in the event of a primary host failure.

"We also have synchronous dial backup services to either primary or alternate sites to minimize risk for companies. These precautionary services turn potential disaster into a simple maintenance issue," according to Murtaugh.

The Hinsdale, Illinois CO fire is a perfect example of the type of assistance communications service providers offer when disaster hits. Many companies were affected by the fir elosing both voice and data lines. BT Tymnet networking technicians drove to the clients' sites with modems in hand and quickly installed a synchronous dial backup solution.

Users were then able to logon through other sites until normal line service was restored. Helping you plan ahead is part of the "value added" service which communications service providers offer companies creating disaster recovery strategies.

These shared data services can save end users thousands of dollars when it comes to protecting yourself with line, port, and host redundancy.

Furthermore, their technicians' knowledge and experience with recovery will be invaluable when disaster strikes.

Testing and simulation

Testing is critical to the success of the disaster recovery strategy because even the most basic plan could fail if ALL participants do not fully understand their roles.

Accordingly, all concerned should be walked through a mock disaster and experience the first post-mortem in a controlled training environment. In even the most rigorous planning processes, something is always overlooked so walk-throughs and testing are essential to catch these planning gaps.

Annual training and re-evaluation are necessary to mitigate future disaster because applications and protection needs constantly change.

Murtaugh said it best when he suggested that "disaster recovery is a journey, not a destination."

In this case, you hope you never reach the destination.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Disaster Recovery
Author:Westra, Glenn
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Remote testing boosts effectiveness of bank's disaster recovery program.
Next Article:How we built our contingency plan.

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