'Be Prepared'

Solution providers that offer disaster-recovery and/or business-continuity services say that, in the wake of the devastating Gulf storms, companies are now looking beyond how their data center might survive a flood to how their business can survive a disaster.

Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner at Irvine, Calif.-based Consiliant Technologies, said interest in disaster recovery was already high. Yet now, interest in business-continuity planning—which looks beyond the data center to the impact of a disaster on all facets of a company from personnel to facilities—has risen sharply because of recent disasters.

“Business continuity requires getting a whole company in alignment,” Kadlec said. “Often, people just tossed the business over the wall to IT. But we&re now talking to the heads of different business units about their needs and plans. If a data center goes down, how does it impact their business? What about their employees?”

Terry Verigan, vice president of consulting services at Agilogic, a Metairie, La.-based business-continuity consultant, said that Hurricane Katrina has pushed business-continuity planning to a new level of urgency.

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“Customers have been reluctant to go to their board of directors to talk about planning,” Verigan said. “Since Katrina, they&ve seen disaster- recovery plans that worked. But business continuity, which is more strategic, was never implemented.”

Now, he said, customers realize they must address business-continuity issues that before they might never have even considered, like making sure employees and their families are OK so they can get back out to work in the field. “Now they are accelerating their time tables, looking to implement plans they didn&t do before,” Verigan said. “The recognition is finally dawning that this is an investment, not an expense.”

Beyond this, companies that had interest in disaster recovery and business continuity are now more conscious of the need to ensure those plans work, said Mitch Kleinman, executive vice president and general manager of Computer Configuration Services, an Irvine-based solution provider.

“We&re not just selling them products, but we&re asking them, ‘Are you executing your plans? Are you practicing role swaps? Are you doing tests?& Many companies don&t test their plans,” Kleinman said.

The hurricanes that hit the Gulf also generated a lot of interest in Computer Configuration Services& managed hosted data centers, which can carve out a virtualized partition for hosting a customer&s data and applications. Those partitions allow customers to replicate data in realtime for disaster recovery, backup and testing purposes without investing in a redundant data center, said Kleinman.

People being people, interest in business continuity can also fade quickly. “It&s human nature,” Kadlec said. “If I&m not affected, I&ll forget about it. Our job as solution providers is to bring the latent pain to the forefront. These companies are fighting their own fires every day. Our job is to remind them of what could happen.”

Solution providers are also learning their own lessons from Hurricane Katrina.

Kleinman said that his company has redundant systems and a remote site to protect its data against a disaster. “If all else fails, we can always go back to our Rolodex and fax machines,” he said. “But I don&t think I can be a successful solution provider if we don&t implement the technology ourselves.”

Verigan, whose offices and home were cut off by Hurricane Katrina, said Agilogic&s people scrambled to safety and its data remained intact.

“But if I were a consultant, I&d say to me, ‘You have to get up and running in one-third the time,” he said. “Sitting on the third floor of our building, we didn&t see a problem. We need to take the same lessons our clients did.”