Backing up the business

29 Jan 2004

For several decades, ‘hot sites’ have been the definitive answer to disaster recovery for organisations large enough — or rich enough — to afford them. In essence, the service means that at least one copy of your data backup (usually on tape) and a functional replication of your server systems and applications are held by the recovery centre. It will also have an appropriate number of servers of different types from all of the relevant vendors and suites of offices with PCs and lots of phone lines.

When a client declares an emergency and invokes the recovery service, restoration of data and setting up of applications for the contracted number of user seats can be under way by the hot site technical team even as key staff make their way to the temporary workplace.

That is the traditional and still basic model, pioneered in Ireland by Irish venture Business Protection Services Ltd (BPSL) in 1988, which became part of the giant international information services group Schlumberger in 2001. “Business continuity has become much more sophisticated over the years, driven by the necessity for 24/7 availability and the growth of the communications infrastructure so that production data and systems can be mirrored on remote servers in real-time,” explains Brendan Seifried, sales and marketing director of Schlumberger in Ireland.

The company now has more than 1,500 seats at seven recovery facilities in Dublin at Santry (the original) and Sandyford, as well as Cork (200 seats) and Belfast where a move to new premises shortly will bring capacity from 150 to 450. All are connected by fibre optics to each other and the Schlumberger data centre, as are the major clients, while the company’s own recovery plan is strengthened in depth with layers of contingency provisions up to world-class data centre standards.

“In essence, we back up buildings,” says Seifried. “The ultimate emergency is when you have no access to your premises. But if you know you can have your key people back at desks and phones and functioning as normal in a matter of not much more than an hour — depending on traffic — your business continuity plan can cope with that worst case scenario. Technology emergencies, things such as server or PABX failures, can be dealt with by drop-in replacements, configured ready to go.”

He recalls that on at least one occasion a client’s phone calls were already diverted and being received at the recovery centre before the staff arrived.

Clients can have dedicated or syndicated (shared) facilities. The premium service is a permanently allocated quota of seats or even a totally secure office suite with their own swipe card entry control, guaranteeing round-the-clock availability regardless of what happens and when. The standard arrangement is essentially a pool of recovery positions with seats allocated on a first-come, first-served basis as clients invoke the service. It is now common for clients to split their overall requirement 30/70 between dedicated and syndicated seats.

The importance of business continuity planning is now well recognised by Irish business, Seifried feels, and it is no longer just larger organisations that recognise the necessity of keeping key functions up and running through a disaster situation. There are few technical difficulties and the cost implications are not too onerous — compared to the unthinkable alternative.

By Leslie Faughnan