IT Puts N.Y. Back in Business

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2001-09-24 Print this article Print

1993 WTC bombing forced organizations to develop rapid-recovery plans.

The road to the disaster recoveries of the past two weeks was paved in the wake of another terrorist attack: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Without that earlier attack, many say, the loss of life and economic damage from this months catastrophes in New York and Washington would have been far more devastating.

Those recovery initiatives launched in earnest eight years ago led businesses in the WTC to develop detailed plans that were crisply executed when disaster struck two weeks ago. And they are the main reason people are back at work trading commodities, scheduling cargo deliveries and carrying out many more of the myriad tasks performed by WTC businesses.

Consider the New York Board of Trade. Until Sept. 11, the exchange, which trades coffee, sugar, cocoa, orange juice, cotton and currency contracts, was in 4 World Trade Center—which was crushed under the weight of the falling South Tower after the terrorist attacks.

Less than a week later, NYBOT, the worlds fourth-largest commodities exchange, was far from the bustle of Wall Street, under the rumble of an elevated train, in a metal-and-glass building. Inside the Comdisco Inc. disaster recovery site, NYBOT traders were once again plying their unique craft: shouting and gesticulating in the frenzy of a market in action.

"We could have switched over the same day [as the attacks]," said Pat Gambaro, executive vice president of operations at the exchange. Thats because the NYBOT has been routinely mirroring its trading data to the companys facility in Queens for about eight years.

Trading resumed Sept. 17. The swift move to the Queens facility would never have happened, however, were it not for the deadly 93 bombing, Gambaro said. In the aftermath of that attack, the exchanges that constitute todays NYBOT were forced to relocate data operations to a "cold site" in Philadelphia.

That site did not include a trading floor. Whats more, IT had the cumbersome task of removing backup tapes from the WTC office and driving them to the cold site in Philadelphia to get that facility up and running.

Dissatisfied by the dislocation caused by that move, Gambaro composed a better plan, one that would provide a real trading facility that was much closer to the financial district, and with mirrored data.

The plan paid off two weeks ago. "We were the only exchange that was wiped out, the only one with a complete backup facility, and we were the first to reopen," said NYBOT spokesman Ted Davis.

Although the facility has the characteristic trading pits, video monitors and traders booths of a traditional commodities exchange, it is, in fact, a scaled-down version of the World Trade Center location. As a result, the exchange cannot handle simultaneous trading in all the commodities, so it rotates throughout the day.

The trading systems in the backup facility in Queens run on a Compaq Computer Corp. Himalaya 2 Model S72000 with six CPUs. It has been continually mirrored on a lights-out basis since 1995. The system boasts 3 terabytes of disk storage and one tape backup. In addition, the NYBOT has 60 PC workstations that handle clerical tasks such as clearing procedures after the prices are struck in the trading pits.

The cost of operating the empty, redundant facility: $250,000 per year.

"Its peanuts," Gambaro said.

No disaster recovery is glitch-free. For the NYBOT, the most significant problem was an inadequate phone system. "Were putting in frame relay and four more lines per booth," said Steve Bass, NYBOTs senior vice president of IT.

As for a new permanent home, the NYBOT is going forward with an earlier plan to move operations into the New York Commodities Exchange building in Lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, in Jersey City, the New York Shipping Association Inc. is seeing to it that cargo ships are unloaded promptly at docks in New York and New Jersey from networked PCs in a SunGard Data Systems Inc. recovery site. The NYSA had been housed on floors 19 and 20 of the World Trade Center South Tower. All its employees escaped the building safely.

The NYSA is a nonprofit organization that manages relations between a consortium of 75 shipping companies and the longshoremens union. Were it not for disaster planning that began in 1993, its unlikely the groups 140 employees would have been up and running within days of the attack, which could have left ships in the harbor unable to unload for an indefinite time.

Crucial to a NYSA system for dispatching longshoremen is an 800-number that the workers call. "To be able to maintain that number is a big thing," said James Melia, executive vice president for operations. Melia said SunGard went the extra mile to keep the number after the office was destroyed.

"We set up a project team to do scenarios after 1993," said Ken Lepczyk, manager of applications at the NYSA.

Since then, once a year, the NYSA staff has scrupulously conducted a disaster recovery drill in Jersey City.

However, the loss of the building creates unexpected but not insurmountable problems. "We just have to buy more stuff," said Joseph Strcich, manager of systems for the NYSA. In all, the bill will come to about $1 million for 60 PCs, two IBM RS/6000s, servers, printers and other equipment.

While workgroups carry on in the Jersey City office, the NYSAs data center is being run from SunGards Philadelphia data center. Philadelphia also houses a backup optical jukebox for the NYSAs pension plan. Tape backups are archived by Iron Mountain Inc. facilities in Moonachie, N.J., and Rosedale, N.Y.

Now, the NYSA has to look ahead. Its SunGard contract is for only six weeks, and the association is eyeing both temporary and permanent space in New Jersey.

From the SunGard site, workers can see across the Hudson River to the site where the WTCs twin towers once stood—except the shades are usually kept closed. Said Melia, "Its good for everyone to have their minds occupied." Thanks to a well-executed recovery plan, they can.

Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.

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