Law school council IT disaster recovery plan aces its examinations

After watching member schools devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Pennsvlvania-based LSAC put in a disaster recovery plan with Hewlett-Packard storage to beat recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) goals.

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While Hurricane Katrina forced many organizations in the New Orleans area to implement IT disaster recovery plans after the fact, the devastating 2005 storm also prompted the Newtown, PA-based Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to plan for a disaster as a preventive measure.

Tulane University Law School in New Orleans and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law are LSAC member schools, and LSAC executives took notice of the damage done to those colleges. Both had to cancel fall classes in 2005 and evacuate their student bodies. That prompted the LSAC Board of Trustees to decide it needed a business-continuity plan with a 24-hour recovery time objective (RTO) and a four-hour recovery point objective (RPO) for its mission-critical ACES2 law school admissions processing application.

The LSAC is a nonprofit corporation that provides services to law schools and admission candidates, including a credential assembly service for law school candidates, admission office data management systems, and administration of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

LSAC contracted with Anexinet Corp., its Blue Bell, PA-based systems-integration partner, to oversee the disaster recovery project on a tight schedule. The board approved the LSAC service-continuity proposal in December 2007, and LSAC's Director of Technical Services Jerry Goldman set a Labor Day 2008 operational deadline. "We had a very, very, very, tight deadline," Goldman said. "Our target date was Labor Day to be up and operational because our peak processing basically parallels the school year."

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SAN overhaul part of the IT disaster recovery plan

Before beginning the disaster recovery project, LSAC used an EMC Corp. Clariion CX500 storage area network (SAN), but needed to expand its storage to add a second SAN at a disaster recovery site. LSAC accepted project bids from EMC and Hewlett-Packard Co., an Anexinet channel partner, and LSAC selected HP as its vendor because it pledged extensive help in designing and equipping the disaster recovery site. "What it came down to was that HP was very aggressive in trying to move us under one solution umbrella," Goldman said. "They made us an offer we couldn't refuse, with the promise that they would be there to help implement everything."

Goldman also said LSAC also selected HP because of its involvement in supporting and promoting IT Service Management (ITSM) best practices. "It was important that their Storage Essentials software for storage resource management really contributed to [bringing ITSM best practices to LSAC] as well as their implementation consultants," Goldman said. "We made them prove up-front, pre-sale, and every step of the way during the implementation how we could achieve these best practices in our operations and our testing. These are disciplines we take very seriously."

LSAC installed an HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) 8100 SAN with 42 TB total capacity at its primary site, and an EVA 4100 SAN with 22 TB of capacity at the disaster recovery site in Valley Forge, PA, approximately 40 miles away from Newtown. "We use Storage Essentials software for storage resource management and planned out our capacity needs for the next 12 to 24 months," Goldman said. LSAC also uses HP's Continuous Access EVA Software to replicate data to the DR site every 15 minutes.

Goldman and his team selected DBSi Inc.'s hosting and business continuity and DR data center in Valley Forge, keeping in mind what it would take to get back up and running in case of an outage. "We looked at three different DR sites, all within 50 miles of Newtown," Goldman said. "And DBSi really had a compelling story in terms of the number of clients they had, their different offerings, attractive pricing, and customer reference. We secured a caged area as a work space because if we faced a disaster, we would have a workspace available to us for up to 50 people with the option to expand."

Tests prove disaster recovery plan works

LSAC met its Labor Day deadline, and in its first test of the DR system the RTO was inside 12 hours and the RPO less than an hour. Now Goldman and his crew test and evaluate the plan and equipment every six months. During the first day of testing, they bring up ACES2 and the candidate interactive services applications and data. On day two, the developers and quality-assurance teams go to the recovery site and test the applications to ensure they are up and operating properly. Any application infrastructure changes at the main site also get properly applied to the DR site before attempting system tests.

LSAC is constantly adding features and functions to its critical applications, and so far this hasn't adversely affected the DR implementation. "In each test we perform every six months, we're adding additional functionality to the mission-critical application portfolio and we are still well within our RTOs and RPOs, knock on wood," Goldman said.

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