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8/26/2005
06:08 PM
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IT At The Eye Of The Storm

Hurricane season is again in full swing. Katrina, presently pounding Florida, is being blamed for at least five deaths and cutting power to more than 2 million people in the southeastern part of the state. As devastating as this year has been -- four named storms in the Atlantic so far -- it doesn't yet measure up to the 2004 storm season, during which nine named storms tormented citizens in the Southeastern states. While it's hard to find a silver lining in these storm clouds, at least last yea

Hurricane season is again in full swing. Katrina, presently pounding Florida, is being blamed for at least five deaths and cutting power to more than 2 million people in the southeastern part of the state. As devastating as this year has been -- four named storms in the Atlantic so far -- it doesn't yet measure up to the 2004 storm season, during which nine named storms tormented citizens in the Southeastern states. While it's hard to find a silver lining in these storm clouds, at least last year's hurricane season taught emergency responders and government agencies to be prepared in a number of ways."Last year taught us there's an urgency that cannot be denied," says John Heighes, manager of infrastructure and operations for The Energy Authority, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based, provider of energy-trading services that manages 18,000 megawatts of electricity across the U.S. The urgency Heighes refers to is the need to get backup facilities up and running at a moment's notice when the storm clouds roll in.

Prior to the 2004 hurricane season, The Energy Authority did a review of its disaster-recovery needs. Heighes and his team determined that a new technology strategy was needed to ensure the organization could fully and quickly replicate data between its primary Jacksonville facilities and its backup location in Atlanta. Any failure of the main facility and lag time in getting the secondary facility up to speed could mean power outages as far away as the Midwest.

For the past six months, The Energy Authority has been testing Xiotech Corp.'s TimeScale Rapid Restore replication appliance to compress and send data between its two Jacksonville sites. TimeScale allows the organization to do policy-based replication, which dictates that the more important information, such as data from the trade-capture systems, is prioritized during the process. The Energy Authority plans to ship another TimeScale appliance and a Xiotech Magnitude 3-D storage-area network to its Atlanta facility within a few weeks in preparation for the height of hurricane season, which began June 1 and will likely last through the end of November.

With the new business-continuity technology in place, energy traders displaced from Jacksonville to Atlanta will have access to fully replicated data and applications, says Pauline Williams-Banta, The Energy Authority's business-continuity manager. "In Atlanta, they'll be able to work as though they're at their desks in Jacksonville," she adds. This is expected to boost productivity if staff is sent to Atlanta, a migration that took place twice during the 2004 season.

For several more examples of how businesses and government agencies are applying technology to keep the lights on and ensure the safety of people in the storms' paths, see my story in the Aug. 29 issue of InformationWeek and at Informationweek.com. There you'll be able to read about new processes Florida's Department of Management Services put in place to keep its citizens safe, a new pilot program in Florida's Miami-Dade County that will ultimately push emergency information out to citizens' cell phones, and the Texas governor's Division of Emergency Management's use of modeling software to better understand the impact of hurricanes on its 634 miles of coast, which includes 10 seaports.

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