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Storage Decisions 2001: Users not panicking over disaster recovery plans

Users aren't in panic mode while trying to pull together disaster recovery plans.

CHICAGO -- The attacks on New York and Washington earlier this month have thrust the need for disaster recovery plans onto the laps of IT administrators. It's clear that businesses who don't have one are eager to put one in place and those that already have one are re-examining current strategies.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, which officials now estimate to have left more than 6,500 people missing or dead, destroyed billions of dollars worth of data. It is now known that companies with workable disaster recovery plans in place were able to recover data within hours of the attacks, underscoring the importance of a disaster recovery plan.

But few IT organizations are in fire-drill mode, which is contrary to the scenario some industry experts predicted. In fact, according to many of the nearly 400 storage professionals attending the Storage Decisions 2001 Conference being held here this week, this isn't the time to forgo other initiatives to focus solely on disaster recovery. If anything, the tragedy has raised questions about the future of their storage management plans and even put some programs on hold.

Gary Wierman, storage management system analyst, The Boeing Company, Seattle, said that his big concern is whether the attacks mean some vendors will be refocusing their strategy. He wants to see what they're going to do before he moves forward with his own storage plans and doesn't think this is the time to make a move on any major initiatives.

Boeing is undergoing massive layoffs as a result of the weakened economy.

"What's going to happen to R&D? What's the obvious impact of all of this?" he asked. "We're trying to push forward and utilize management better. Before we take the big leap we want to know where the industry stands."

Evaluating current plans

For companies, like Boeing, who have disaster recovery plans, re-examining the existing strategy makes sense.

Steve Terrill, a storage executive with Interstate Insurance, Chicago, said his company was going to take a "drastic" look at its disaster recovery strategy.

"We've had to evaluate our evacuation policies and some of our backup sites," he said.

But some users say they're comfortable with their current plan and except for an item here and there, they are not likely to be making significant changes.

Disaster recovery plans, or contingency plans, can run the gamut from basic backup to policies for head counts after a disaster. According to Damian Walch, senior vice president for Comdisco's continuity services, most companies don't prepare for a catastrophe such as the attack on the World Trade Center.

Comdisco actually responded to 94 calls for data recovery services from customers at the World Trade Center. Forty-seven of those customers didn't have backup staff and two of the companies actually lost their data recovery team.

"You have to have backup and you have to take it seriously," he said. But, Walch admitted it isn't easy to grasp.

Leif Thusholt, a technical manager for PBS Data, Ballerup, Denmark, said that the challenges he's experienced in disaster recovery planning have to do with the question: What type of disaster do we plan for?

The range of disasters is so broad, and there are so many different possible backup scenarios, he said.

"It's hard to get people in Denmark to think about disaster planning. We're a very peaceful country. Having seen the events of Sept. 11 makes us realize that we're all vulnerable."

Still, despite the possible threat of terrorism, which experts say could take many forms, some companies are confident that the risk is still fairly low and that their plans are more than adequate.

"We know we have a pretty good plan in place," said Alan Baer, a capacity planner with TTX Company, Chicago. "And we're pretty secure with that."

Interest in replication on the rise

But, Baer, like many others in companies that currently use tape backup, is considering moving to replication or mirroring types of back up.

Companies in the World Trade Center that were able to access their data within minutes or hours were more than likely using replication backup procedures which means data was being saved at a remote location in real-time.

"We're considering some replication," said Baer. "Not all, but some."

Ken Rudnick, a networking administrator at Festo, an industrial automation company based in Hauppaugue, N.Y., said that while his company had been thinking about data replication technology for a while, the disaster made it a priority.

However, he is looking to leverage a disaster recover plan with an overall storage solution. "We were just thinking about replication earlier, but a little less seriously than we are now."

But, as Baer points out, replication can be costly.

Rudnick says his budget has been redeployed to concentrate on disaster recovery but how all that will be done remains to be seen. "We're looking for a solution to address both (disaster recover and SAN). We're looking to have a disaster recovery plan, but satisfy our storage needs at the same time."

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