Building Your Safety Net

Every company needs a disaster recovery plan, but e-businesses have some special needs to guarantee they're running around-the-clock.

On September 15, four days after the World Trade Center attack in New York, Geoff de Lesseps, CEO of TheBeast, had something important to tell the world. "I am happy to report that our two most important assets—our employees and our software code—are safe, and we are open for business," he said.

TheBeast develops software and platforms for real-time data distribution and online securities trading across the Web, wireless connections, and wide-area networks. On September 11, the company was relatively lucky. Although its offices were on the 80th floor, just below where the first plane hit, all 63 of the companys employees escaped the building safely. By the end of the week, most were working in an alternate facility in New Jersey.

The company, however, wasnt as fortunate in saving its data. TheBeast had a disaster recovery plan that entailed only weekly backups of software code. There was no backup plan implemented for other data resources, such as e-mail. When disaster struck, the company had to scramble. "The mandate was to back up every week," says Ashok Mittal, the companys senior vice president of corporate technology. "There was an update that was supposed to happen on Monday, but that night we were working until 3:00 A.M." The backup never happened, and as a result, the company lost about a months worth of labor on updated code—not to mention its hosting facility.

In early September, TheBeast was scouting around for a hosting provider so it could get out of the application-hosting business but it hadnt found a partner by September 11. The company and its customers lost any information housed in the on-site data center that wasnt backed up to its Level 3 off-site data center.

TheBeasts experience isnt unique by a long shot, say analysts. Today, if a disaster were to strike in Anywhere, U.S.A., nearly every company would lose some if not all of its data. And companies with online components are often hit the hardest, because their entire business models are tied to technology.

In our January 15 story "Be Prepared," we examined the key strategies and technologies necessary to implement a good disaster recovery plan. As a follow-up, here are the top ten questions that companies relying on the Internet to conduct business should ask themselves and their partners in the process of developing rock-solid plans.

After taking a look at its own disaster recovery plan and asking some of these questions, TheBeast has completely rethought its strategy, says Mittal. "Unfortunately, you cant do too much planning," he says. "We have learned to take disaster recovery very seriously."