Ready with plan B

Under pressure from customers to brace network systems to withstand disasters and shutdowns, organizations are investigating ways to enlist business continuity services, from companies such as T-Systems AG and EMC Corp., as a flexible safety net.

And traditional software vendors, including Opsware Inc. and Ecora Corp., are responding by combining a wealth of experience and niche offerings to plug disaster-recovery holes.

The events of Sept. 11 caught off guard scores of companies without proper fail-over and disaster recovery methodologies. A year later, many organizations are still unclear on a proper starting point and the skills needed to customize a plan.

“Business continuity solutions were stuck on a shelf and really never looked at again,” said Sandra Palumbo, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group. “[Companies] don’t know necessarily where to start or have resources internally to do this sort of thing.”

To be successful, Palumbo said, business continuity and disaster recovery plans must be continually reevaluated and possess the flexibility for periodic updates.

To assist companies aiming to prepare for the worst, T-Systems next month will launch a business continuity service designed to help customers determine which disaster recovery system best fits their needs.

A telecommunications and IT services business unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, T-Systems’ service fuses risk assessment with the ongoing evaluation of recoverability and coverage across a company’s business structure, said Andrew Borgstrom, CEO of Chicago-based T-Systems.

Network redundancy, resource distribution, security-impact assessment, and planning consistency top customers’ lists for business continuity assistance, Borgstrom said.

T-Systems plans to augment common continuity-planning approaches behind its professional services practice by offering outage notifications, monitoring, escalation procedures, and incident collection.

“The problem is these start-up-and-stop efforts,” Borgstrom said. “The number of points of vulnerability, for even the customers that think they have their act together, are far more than anyone could imagine.”

Although end-users are often reluctant to embrace outsourcing efforts such as T-Systems’, Yankee Group’s Palumbo said the appeal of value-added managed services and the “hands-off” nature of datacenters and dispersed hot-sites could be the perfect remedy to sway even the most ardent hosting skeptics.

“Having backup being run and maintained by someone else, although there’s hesitancy around it, right now it’s not such a bad idea … to get started on the path all the way up to managing and maintaining that plan, and [to receive] managed services that customers want,” Palumbo said.

Customers want vendors that have ample experience in dealing with a variety of scenarios, Palumbo said.

For some customers, such as Michael Wright, senior IT systems administrator at Denver International Airport (DIA), services wrapped around business continuity can provide a reassuring pillar of support for product purchases.

With the help of EMC Global Services, DIA has deployed a network storage platform using EMC Corp.’s Symmetrix SAN and EMC Celerra NAS to consolidate its servers and maximize storage capacity.

Initially interested in a traditional backup-to-tape disaster recovery model, Wright said EMC’s professional services guidance helped the DIA cut costs and create a business continuity plan for remote data replication should an outage arise.

“We were not experts in this field. We would change data migration [needs] at the last minute and [EMC] was extremely accommodating,” Wright said. “We’ve been able to exploit costs and get more than what we paid out of it.”

Wright said the DIA’s data replication site that will house critical data and the airport’s network operations center is expected to go live in about five weeks.

Although disaster recovery services are gaining momentum, they have not eliminated their software counterparts.

Despite having sold its managed services business to Electronic Data Systems Corp., Opsware — formerly managed service provider Loudcloud Inc. — is determined to leverage the experience it acquired in its last incarnation.

Last week, Opsware announced the release of its Multimaster SAM (Service Automation Module). Its latest “knowledge pack” synchronizes software and configuration settings to rebuild a server and application environment across multiple datacenters in case of an outage or emergency, said Tim Howes, CTO and executive vice president of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Opsware.

Howes said the new software provides a single console to distribute global applications. Multimaster SAM is an extension of Opsware System 3, the company’s IT automation platform.

In an effort to bring its disaster recovery product to a new segment of customers, Ecora announced last week the release of Configuration Auditor for Microsoft Corp. SQL Server. Customers asked the company for broader support beyond Oracle, according to officials at Portsmouth, N.H.-based Ecora.

Configuration Auditor for Microsoft SQL Server allows viewers to see which users have been assigned to which server roles, including log-in information for reorchestration in case of an outage.

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