Firms want DR systems to be driven by business needs

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Companies today are clamouring for business-driven disaster recovery (DR) systems that allow them to run key applications in the shortest time possible.

The situation today is very different from what it was a decade ago, when DR was synonymous with information technology (IT) recovery, said Chris Toushan, president of SunGard Availability Services Canada in Toronto.

At the time, he said, the emphasis was on backing up data and ensuring power could be restored quickly. “Not surprisingly the show was run by IT. Today, however, there is a growing realization that recovery has to be driven by business needs.”

Sebastien Ruest, vice-president of services research for the information technology consultancy firm IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto agrees.

“Back then disaster recovery was mainly backing up tapes every 24 hours and trucking them over to a data storage facility. This type of solution is no longer considered adequate.”

Despite this realization, Ruest estimates only around 30 per cent of Ontario businesses have a full-blown business continuity plan in place.

Aegon Canada Inc. belongs to this select 30 per cent club.

The Toronto-based arm of a global insurance firm, Aegon Canada realizes the need for faster business recovery time.

“Our financial losses would be sizeable if we failed to get our systems running in the shortest time possible,” said John Pistilli of Aegon Canada.

Pistilli said a few years ago Aegon relied on backup tapes of their daily operations. The tapes were trucked every night to a storage site.

The problem with this system was in a disaster the files still had to be located and shipped back to the company’s head office. “It was a cost-effective operation but has its limitations,” said Toushan.

In the event of a disaster, he said, a company would have records of a transaction only up to the point a back-up was taken. It could take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to restore operations from scratch.

“Today, that is simply not acceptable for most companies because they could lose a lot of money for every minute they are down,” said Toushan

Ruest said in the traditional data-backup scenario (“mirroring” of a company’s system) was not considered. “Even if some data was recovered and power at the headquarters restored, a staged or tiered recovery of operations would be difficult to achieve,” he said.

Toushan recommends what he calls “high availability” systems where a company’s data is transmitted real time to servers in a separate facility.

Facilities like those run bySunGard “mirror” a company’s system. When disaster strikes, the data is either transmitted back to the client or the client’s emergency personnel to run the “mirrored” system at the back-up facility.

The service could cost from three to ten times more than the back-up tape system. But, according to SunGard, it allows clients to resume the most vital operations, and work their way up to full recovery in a shorter period.

“Resumption of operations is within one to two hours and data is recovered up to the point of failure. No transaction is lost,” said Toushan.

Back-up facilities such as those offered by Sunward are what DR consultant Patrick Dempsey of PBD Consulting of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey calls “hot sites”.

Companies developing a business continuity plan have to take into consideration what percentage or level of operation they can live with during or right after a disaster, said Dempsey.

“If a firm’s office is taken out, it should have a hot site or emergency site equipped to take over operations. Ideally it should enable at the firm to carry out 80 percent of the normal operations.”

Ruest said that despite the disruptions caused, in 2003, by the SARS outbreak and blackout that hit Toronto a few years ago, DR budgets have remained the same for most Canadian firms.

“A lot of firms see DR as a form of insurance. They think about only when disaster strikes,” he said, adding that this reveals a lack of understanding on the purpose of DR and what it entails.

Today Argon is able to recover level-one operations (telephone systems, online directory, client transaction data, trading systems and Web applications) at the point of failure, within eight to 24 hours.

Aegon said data replication is done every 15 minutes by transmitting data to a hot-site operated by SunGard. The site has a “mirror image” of Aegon’s operating systems.

Should Aegon’s operations get knocked-out, the management firm’s staff can quickly drive over to the site and run the system from the SunGard facility.

Aegon has access to the facility on a shared arrangement with other companies. But growth of the operation is spurring them to eye a dedicated model where the back-up facility is geared mainly for their operations

“With a dedicated site we are targeting operations recovery of within four hours by 2007,” said Pistilli.

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