IT Management

Preparing for disasters is one thing; experiencing them is quite another. Under severe stress and pressure, businesses do what they can to stay online and ensure employee safety. Nevertheless, no matter how well you plan, something’s always overlooked. This article takes a hard look at disaster preparedness and lessons learned since the catastrophic events of hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. Two organizations share what they learned from surviving or simulating substantial disasters—and what they did organizationally and with their systems to stay up and running.

Disaster Preparedness Is a “Front and Center ” Issue

Before the 2006 hurricane season gets into full swing, meteorologists are already predicting another active season with as many as six major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. No one wants to remember last year’s storm season. In fact, there are many organizations that went through disasters such as Hurricane Katrina that still are unable to talk about it.

The stakes are high. Nearly two out of every five businesses hit by a major storm such as Katrina never recover, according to several disaster recovery surveys. Positioned in the middle of the Katrina disaster while it tried to help beleaguered customers, IBM announced in May 2006 that it was delivering major enhancements to its Storage eVirtualization System that will allow organizations to extend the footprints of their IT infrastructure well beyond their immediate geographical areas as insurance for regional disasters such as Katrina—which can affect facilities and communications for miles.

Features such as long-distance global mirroring, 4 gigabits per second (Gbps) fabric support, support for additional disk and server systems and cluster non-disruptive upgrade all come together to improve corporate capacity for running IT operations at a distance from disasters, and are especially beneficial for zSeries sites. The news is being welcomed by enterprises, since a major lesson learned from Katrina was the need to develop virtual corporate infrastructures that can support full data center operations at great geographical distances from headquarters by using on-demand environments that can “jump in” with processing support regardless of where data is resident.

Still, a major remaining task for organizations is the people factor. For example, even if you virtualize your IT operations, what do you do if a key employee is injured or killed—or is dealing with disastrous circumstances that affect his home or family, and that don’t allow him to focus on work? Businesses are recognizing the unpredictable and precarious nature of the “people factor,” and are taking steps to assist employees in both on the job and at home preparedness. Here are two stories:

Hurricane Wilma: BlueCross and BlueShield of Florida

Headquartered in Jacksonville, BlueCross and BlueShield of Florida (BCBSF) employs more than 9,300 people at 24 facilities that include offices in Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Pensacola, and Orlando.

“We were never affected by Hurricane Wilma in our Jacksonville center, which housed our primary zSeries systems,” says Chris Gay, manager of Disaster Recovery and Systems Continuity Management for BCBSF. “But our Fort Lauderdale office sustained water damage and was offline for two-and-a-half months.”

BCBSF began going down its Business Continuity (BC) plan punch list—relocating 69 Fort Lauderdale personnel to the Miami and Palm Beach offices. Training and conference rooms at the Miami and Palm Beach facilities were equipped with desktop computers and communications for the extra people, and the phone system was updated to reflect the relocations. “This was actually more of a business continuity than a disaster recovery exercise, since our mainframe and distributed systems were largely unaffected,” says Gay.

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