In Case of Emergency

New technology, and new threats, have businesses reexamining how they cope with disaster.

The civil disobedience never materialized, and the railroad kept running. But other dangers remain, including fires and car or truck accidents in the city center. “A main line runs right by the office,” explains Cammack.

To keep its operations center operating, the $3.7 billion company has invested considerable resources in disaster recovery. In 1999, it constructed a state-of-the-art, remote hot site. Interestingly, the company has also poured money into an empty lot that abuts the site.

Rocky Mountain fever? Hardly. In case of a catastrophe, the company plans to park two large trailers on the lot. The trailers are deployed complete with computers, desks, and telephones, courtesy of Agility Recovery Solutions, in Mississauga, Ontario. They are connected via “hitching post” to the hot site for instant connectivity. During an emergency, the railroad’s management plans to house up to 80 additional workers in the trailers, mostly to handle customer inquiries.

Until the recent train bombing in Spain, a mobile site next to a hot site might have qualified as disaster-recovery overkill. But such a view ignores the herculean coordination necessary to run a transcontinental railroad. “If we can’t throw switches,” says Cammack matter-of-factly, “we’re out of business.”

Beyond the Raised Floor

How companies get their systems up and running after a disaster strikes.

Cold backup. Basically, an empty room in a building. Once a disaster hits, computers, routers, and telephones are moved into the room. Cold backups, while cheap, require a fair amount of time — often days — to restore full operations.

Warm backup. A room with computers that replicate a company’s existing data center or network. After a disaster, an offsite tape backup is used to boot the computers. Then the hard work of recovery — a process that can take up to 24 hours — begins.

Hot backup. A mirror image of an existing data center or network, with preconfigured systems. Like a warm backup, a tape backup from an offsite is delivered to the data center in case of an emergency. Unlike a warm backup, it takes only a few hours to get these preconfigured systems up and running.

Fail-over. The fastest — and most expensive — backup option. If a primary system fails, a fail-over automatically switches to a standby database, server, or network. A fail-over site redirects requests from the failed system to the backup system. Websites are big users of fail-over.

Mobile backup. A trailer, replete with computers, routers, and telephones, that can be rolled up right next to a company’s main building or offsite backup. A mobile backup provides additional capabilities in times of emergency, but frees companies from having to invest in permanent office space.

Online/offsite backup. Backing up data or systems to an offsite location via the Internet. With increases in bandwidth, and advances in technology, online backup could be the wave of the future for disaster recovery.

Remote backup. Offsite backup locations that are typically 50 to 75 miles distant from a company’s main data center or operation. Since the blackout of 2003, the definition of remote has changed, with some companies investing in backup sites on different power grids. —J.G.

Sources: AMR Research, Webopedia

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