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Terrorist Attacks a Disaster Recovery Wake-Up Call

Compared to the death and suffering caused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the associated loss of business data pales in importance. But there can be little doubt the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington raised the profile of the need for disaster recovery plans.

"Enterprises everywhere struggle to deal with the enormity of the human toll taken in the recent terrorist attacks and will rightly be preoccupied for several days with ensuring that their employees and their families are safe and cared-for. After these necessary first steps have been taken, however, enterprises must make practical decisions to ensure the continuity and viability of their business operations," analyst firm Gartner warned in a research bulletin posted last week.

World Trade Center businesses were taking those steps in the proper order last week.

One of the hardest hit companies was Cantor Fitzgerald L.P., a government bond trading firm occupying the 101st, 103rd, 104th and 105th floors of the first tower to be hit by a hijacked plane Tuesday. Of 1,000 people who worked in the building, only about 320 are accounted for, and most of them were out of the building when the plane struck.

One of the company's key URLs is dedicated entirely to information about relief funds, support hotlines, benefit information and tracking the missing. The company also suspended Nasdaq trading of its common stock on Monday as it continued to try to account for employees and key executives lost in the destruction of its offices.

But even that company, with 2,300 employees worldwide, had to quickly reopen its electronic trading service. Handling more than $200 billion in government securities transactions each day, the status of that system was a factor market officials had to weigh as they considered whether to reopen the government bond market, according to The New York Times.

Other companies made the step of declaring data emergencies in unprecedented numbers.

Comdisco, one of the Big Three business continuity service providers, reported that 47 customers issued 90 declarations of emergency in the wake of the building collapses. Although some of the claims have been withdrawn, Comdisco currently has 35 customers, most in New York and six from the World Trade Centers, that have made a combined 72 disaster declarations.

For comparison, Comdisco's previous record for simultaneous declarations was 26 during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, according to Gartner.

Another of the major disaster recovery firms, Sungard Recovery Services, is supporting 22 disaster declarations and monitoring nearly 70 alerts.

Both Comdisco and Sungard run large data centers where companies can relocate employees and access data replicated from their original systems.

The approach -- contract with Comdisco, Sungard or IBM's business recovery service unit -- represents one of three major options for companies who choose to try to prepare for possible disasters. Another option is to handle disaster recovery internally, replicating data across long distances with combinations of hardware, software and leased connectivity such as Fibre. A third option is to mix the two approaches. (See related story for some internal options for building business continuity around Windows servers).

Gartner cautions that the time when businesses could afford to take the none-of-the-above approach has passed.

"Enterprises must begin preparing for the possibility -- indeed, the strong probability -- of further such attacks. If these enterprises do not immediately begin developing and testing business continuity plans and seeking disaster recovery services, they risk complete loss of their business viability when -- not if -- a future attack comes," Gartner analysts said.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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