IT Departments Thinking Big About Disaster Recovery

Opinion: The latest storms are forcing IT deparments to take a big-picture view of business continuity.

The IT department, once seen as having too narrow a focus on making good tech product choices, is thinking big—maybe bigger than the vendors creating new products. If you want to see what I mean by thinking big, take a look at the recent discussion eWEEK Technology Editor Peter Coffee had with our Corporate Partner Advisory Board on disaster recovery.

Disaster recovery, after two disastrous hurricanes, is much in the news. The storms approaches, the massive evacuations and the scenes of devastation are part of the fabric of the mainstream media. Underlying the appropriate focus on human tragedy and a determination to rebuild are the problems associated with not only getting businesses up and running but also providing the myriad computer-based services upon which we have come to rely.

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Going to the bank to get money from an ATM; having your prescription refilled, whether it be from a local or remote pharmacy; buying a tank of gas using your credit card; or having your medical records available to a new physician all require technology systems that are available, flexible and secure.

In Coffees discussions with Corporate Partners—including the chief technology officer at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, the IT architect at Gannett and the CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases—I was impressed with the broad view these technology managers are taking with regard to disaster recovery. Where disaster recovery once meant making sure you had battery backup and an up-to-date tape archive, it now means much more.

In response to a question regarding whether the latest storms have caused information technologists to consider the big-picture view of the disaster recovery process, Tom Miller, director of IT for FoxHollow Technologies, said, "For us, it really comes down to: What are we going to do from a risk management standpoint? And how can we make sure that we involve the business in its entirety? As with any business continuity plan, we want to make sure that it doesnt look just at the IT side of the house and that were looking at how can we operate entirely as a business."

Millers comments and those of other Corporate Partners—one of whom stated that even the consulting community is still primarily focused on technology solutions rather than taking a whole-business approach—show me that those vendors taking a product approach to disaster recovery are missing some key points.

Remote data backup or virtualized processors wont do a company much good if the people required to run those restoration processes are stuck in a traffic jam. In the future, disaster recovery will require not just products but systems that can help users restore and recover business operations even if those users are not experienced in a particular recovery process.

Why are the technologists taking the lead in thinking bigger about disaster recovery? Id say it is because they have some of the most personal experience in what it takes to rebuild information systems. Despite the discussions about self-healing systems and automatic backup, restoring a businesss information infrastructure requires a delicate balance of robust systems, defined business processes and—most important—people.

People are the key element in being able to adapt to the range of extremes, both expected and unexpected, occurring during an emergency. As Gannetts Gary Gunnerson said: "I dont think you could ever plan well enough to respond appropriately to every scenario. So what you really have to do is have a group thats prepared to respond and then adjust your response based upon what your issues are."

In thinking bigger about disaster recovery, the information technologists are leading the way in creating plans that can truly get businesses up and running. It would be good for technology vendors to listen to what they are saying.

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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