Storage Soup

Dec 11 2008   2:48PM GMT

The vagaries of disaster recovery, cont’d

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Last week, Tory Skyers wrote a post about the unforeseen complexities of disaster recovery after his PC’s motherboard fried. This week, I had an interesting discussion with somebody working with a much bigger enterprise infrastructure who also found that people, process, and sometimes luck–good and bad–can influence disaster recovery planning more than any technology.

Mark Zwartz, manager of information technologies for privately held real estate conglomerate JMB Companies, has been signed on with SunGard’s Availability Services for virtual server-based DR since August.  Last week Zwartz gave me a deeper look behind the scenes at his disaster recovery planning process, and the ways it wasn’t so simple.

For one thing, it might not have happened at all without a contract re-negotiation with SunGard. “Our original contract was a wacky deal with [one subsidiary] that expanded to the other entities, but the contracts were so goofy and webbed into each other that if we called with a problem or needing to fail over, the people at SunGard might not have any idea which company or machines we were talking about,” he said. “We saved money on lawyers and negotiations, but quite honestly, if we had to failover, nobody at SunGard might’ve known what to turn on.”

The renegotiation of that contract happened to coincide with the beta program for the SunGard service. “That was the foot in the door to change things,” Zwartz said. Because it was a beta program, the companies got three free months of testing, which caught the attention of Zwartz’s management.

Meanwhile, JMB was in the midst of a hardware refresh, as well as rolling out virtualization. Still, “one of the hardest parts was selling virtualization–these are highly intelligent people who are handling millions if not billions of dollars, and it’s hard to explain the concept that they don’t actually ‘own’ anything [with virtual servers],” he said.

A broker at a hedge fund firm in the conglomerate was highly reliant on Outlook contacts and notes in each contact file to do her daily business. Meanwhile, the company still worked with traditional tape backup, which wouldn’t offer the granular protection to recover all of those contacts in the event of an outage.

I’m sure most of you out there in blogland know what happened next. “She was synching her BlackBerry herself, and blew out her contacts,” according to Zwartz. The only option for restoring Exchange backups was to restore the entire Exchange database from tape to a separate server, which the company had declined to buy. “They lost a significant part of a trade before that,” he said. “Nobody realized such a small thing would make her unproductive.”

Of course, without a fully staffed and replicated secondary environment, Zwartz acknowledged, it’s impossible to be disaster-proof. But the incident also had a silver lining when it came to convincing management to participate in the new SunGard program. “It would’ve cost $1,500 to get a new backup device,” he said. “It wound up taking six weeks to get one contact back and cost between $15,000 and $20,000. It was a selling point when it came to virtual servers with SunGard.”

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