Disaster Recovery Meets Business Continuity

Bill Spencer, CEO of Planet Associates, joined Ziff Davis Enterprise Editorial Director Mike Vizard for a recent IT Link podcast. A transcript of that interview follows.

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Mike Vizard: When everybody talks about disaster recovery in the context of IT, theyre always talking about the data center and the servers and theyre really not talking about the whole holistic structure of the company and the infrastructure and the whole play. So as we get ready to kind of enter into what I would call the disaster season, with hurricanes coming and, you know, whatever else may happen in the world that may be politically related or whatever, how do customers need to think about their approach to disaster recovery and that whole issue of business continuity? How does that all come together in some kind of way to manage that in a holistic way?

Bill Spencer: Well, one of the biggest problems that weve experienced is that organizations really dont have access to the kind of information they need to get at quickly when an incident occurs or a disaster occurs. Theyre going around and theyre maybe gathering together some spreadsheets, some various database information, maybe some Visio drawings, some AutoCAD drawings, some geospatial information, various databases, and a lot of that information is out of synch and difficult to understand quickly. And oftentimes, what they end up doing is actually having to send people out to the site to determine exactly what did happen, what the impact of that event was.

Vizard: And more often than not, they cant actually get to the site so its kind of too late at that point.

Spencer: Absolutely yes. So the areas that we have focused on primarily address the ability to consolidate all that information into a visual. Not just a database repository, but a visual repository thats geo referenced and layered and vectorized so that not only can they get information relative to what impact that particular disaster may have occurred, but also take a look at all of the relationships around the data that surround that particular incident.

Vizard: And then that data itself wouldnt reside in some central location, it would be accessible through a distributed mechanism so that, you know, if I have operations in Texas and something happens in Florida, I can actually see whats happening from Texas and then take some steps to replicate what I need to replicate to keep the business going.

Spencer: Absolutely. In fact, from our perspective, that was probably the biggest challenge that we faced, because as you consolidate all this information, if you can imagine consolidating information that was geo-referenced and from a geospatial system, maybe information that was in a CAD system and then information that might have been in a Visio drawing, like rack elevations or other types of data like that, if you can imagine trying to consolidate that into a solution and then somehow making it available to someone out in the field in a way that they could understand it. It was really the biggest technology challenge that we faced as we evolved our solutions. And the way we solved that was to take a look at some of the technology that Adobe introduced with Acrobat 6, and that was the ability to produce a portable document that has layers and also has metadata embedded it. By using that technology, we were able now to provide an intelligent document that a first responder or a field support person could access through a portal and create the document real time and provide him with useful information in Texas or wherever that incident occurred. And that was our singular biggest challenge that we had to face.

Vizard: Now, every time I talk to a CIO and I ask them at the beginning of the year especially, to list their priorities for the year, business continuity, disaster recovery usually winds up somewhere on like the top five. And when I get to the end of the year and I ask them the same question, its still sitting on the list at the top five. So therere a lot of good intentions, but what in your experience is holding people up from crafting a real disaster recovery/business continuity plan and, you know, making something that works. Because every time we have a disaster it always seems like we study what we should have done but nothing ever changes.

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