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Disaster recovery: Worst possible scenarios

CIO John O'Brien survived an earthquake, and now he makes sure his DR plan can go the distance.

John O'Brien saw a disaster waiting to happen. When he took over as director of information services at David Evans and Associates, Inc., employees at the Portland, Ore. architectural and engineering firm were storing backup tapes wherever they could -- including their backyard garages.

Other tapes were stacked against the backup machine, in the same physical space as the original data. Today O'Brien is planning to convert the $130-million company to a disk storage system. In the meantime, he implemented a $350,000 three-point disaster recovery plan completed in February that has already delivered tangible cost savings.

It also delivered O'Brien from the pain of knowing the firm wasn't properly protected. "Disaster recovery is not strictly file recovery," says O'Brien. "There is a view out there, among some of my comprades, that as long as I can get the files or my database back, then I'm OK." O'Brien defines disaster recovery as surviving an earthquake registering 7.2 on the Richter Scale, just as he did a few years back in Olympia, Washington. "You have zero access to your building," O'Brien said. "How do you get your 200-plus engineers working, with the correct information, in the shortest amount of time?" Step one for O'Brien was obvious. He contracted records storage company Iron Mountain Inc. and also established bank safe deposit boxes in locations far away from any of the company's 17 U.S. offices.

Then came SAN. O'Brien invested $300,000 in eight terabytes worth of EMC Corp.'s storage area network for two reasons: DR and server costs. Calculating his annual storage needs and the cost or replacement servers, O'Brien estimates an annual ROI of $148,000. Finally, O'Brien spent $50,000, split evenly between a Dell Inc. server and Double-Take software, on a replication server that backs up data to corporate headquarters every day. "For midlevel markets, you know, it's not cheap," O'Brien admits.

"You are talking a bout 50,000 just to replicate. That's also a tremendous amount of storage coming across your bandwidth. We have the bandwidth to support that type of DR." For O'Brien, who will remind you that Oregon is a volcanic region, the best DR advice is simple: "Think about your worst case scenario and plan around it."

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