Greg Enright: The truth of IT disasters

A topic you’re no doubt hearing a great deal about these days (and also the subject of this issue’s feature story) is disaster recovery. In an age when vendors are doing their utmost to help words such as “rightsizing” (an odious attempt to make the process of job-chopping seem almost warm and fuzzy) creep into our vernacular, it’s amazing that the term is still in existence, or even came into being, for that matter.

The phrase can have somewhat of a broad, open-ended definition, but essentially it points to the process of somehow maintaining IT systems in the face of disasters, be they natural or man-made, and of getting them up and running as fast as possible if they should go down as a result of such an unfortunate event.

There’s no denying the effects that floods, earthquakes, forest fires like those recently witnessed in British Columbia, and electrical outages, be they large, such as that which hit eastern North America this summer, or small, have on IT systems. These occurrences will continue to pose grave dangers for networking infrastructures and the people who mange them.

Despite such a stark reality, it’s somewhat surprising that a more sanitized term has not been devised and force-fed to the media and end user base by those who would prefer the IT community to think that a system failure is as rare as a Barbadian blizzard.

“Disaster recovery,” after all, presupposes that a disaster has happened and that it must be recovered from. Can it be very long before such an accurate representation of reality is phased out, cleaned up and spit-polished into some new grotesque and confusing entity such as “disaster avoidance,” or the even-less menacing and more opaque “system shielding”?

Regardless of what the process is called, disasters will unfortunately be a perpetual Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of every IT manager. As more business is conducted in an electronic manner, the risk of data loss and system failure rises accordingly. Such is the price we have to pay for the advantage of speed and robustness that IT offers.

Fortunately, some innovative ideas are coming to the fore and are manifesting themselves into products available right now, such as those that help automate data centre processes, as profiled on pages 18-19. For many cash-strapped IT outfits, top-of-the-line disaster recovery tools are regarded as luxuries and are placed well down on the average corporate wish list.

Nonetheless, it is never a bad idea to stay abreast of the latest wares on the market and to invest whenever possible in them, even if it is in a piecemeal fashion. Processes such as data mirroring and the plotting of contingency strategies may seem as exciting as a second viewing of Steel Magnolias, but are nevertheless crucial to one’s peace of mind.

It’s also wise to occasionally remind the CEO and other top brass about the importance of disaster recovery. No matter what the concept is called today or tomorrow, it’s something that can fall off the radar screen in a hurry.