US hurricanes finds IT prepared for the worst

Lessons from Katrina learned

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike didn't hit the Gulf Coast as hard as had been feared this month. But some IT managers in New Orleans say they were ready for whatever the storm brought, having upgraded their disaster recovery capabilities since Katrina and Rita devastated the region three years ago.

For instance, since 2005, Loyola University has added an intermediate disaster-recovery site at an out-of-state location to help maintain communications and keep a simplified version of the school's website up and running in emergencies.

The intermediate site adds a third level of backup capabilities, complementing generators in Loyola's datacentre and hot-site services provided for the university's critical systems by SunGard Availability Services.

"We had a very full-fledged disaster recovery plan prior to Katrina," says Bret Jacobs, Loyola's executive director of IT. But, he adds, the damage wrought by that storm showed school officials that even more preparations were needed.

"We want to have our reactions institutionalised because you never know what a storm will do," Jacobs says.

Digimation, a developer of 3D digital animation software in St. Rose, Louisiana., about 10 miles west of New Orleans, was knocked out of business for a week after Katrina struck. Its power and website weren't restored for two weeks.

Now, says Digimation President David Avgikos, all of the company's 50 or so PCs and servers are backed up to a main server, which in turn is backed up to a 1TB USB-connected drive that goes out the door with the last employee during an emergency evacuation.

And the company's website has been farmed out to a remote hosting provider far from New Orleans.

Tidewater, which supports oil and gas exploration and production companies, has set up a "totally redundant IT system" in Dallas, says Joe Bennett, executive vice president and chief investor relations officer. "We can just flip a switch."

Tidewater has also done a lot of disaster recovery training since 2005, and it held daily meetings of key personnel as Gustav neared the coast. "Will this be a false alarm? Possibly," Bennett said. "But you have to be prepared for the worst."

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