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8/29/2005
04:53 PM
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Katrina Makes Life Difficult In The Big Easy

Perhaps there isn't a meaningful business technology parallel to the hellacious scenario that unfolded Monday in New Orleans, although I did once attend a Common AS/400 user conference at the newly convertible Superdome. As Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury along the city's cobblestone streets and left several residents stranded on their rooftops, people were more co

Perhaps there isn't a meaningful business technology parallel to the hellacious scenario that unfolded Monday in New Orleans, although I did once attend a Common AS/400 user conference at the newly convertible Superdome. As Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury along the city's cobblestone streets and left several residents stranded on their rooftops, people were more concerned with escaping with their lives than making sure their data was backed up. Of course, with last year's hurricane season as one for the record books, businesses and government agencies in the southeast have certainly been through this, or something close to it, before.Last Friday, I wrote a blog in order to alert people to a story I'd written weeks ago about how businesses and government agencies in the Southeast were using technology to prepare for this year's hurricane season. We knew the story would run just as hurricane season hit its full stride, but we had no idea how timely it would be.

I focused on areas hardest hit during the 2004 hurricane season--Florida and Texas. For the most part, people were happy to talk to me about the work they'd done applying technology to keep the lights on and ensure the safety of people in the storms' paths. My story highlights 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 include 10 seaports.

I also caught up with The Energy Authority, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based, provider of energy trading services that manages 18,000 megawatts of electricity across the U.S. "Last year taught us there's an urgency that cannot be denied," John Heighes, manager of infrastructure and operations for The Energy Authority, told me. 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 3D 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.

In another interesting wrinkle to the story, Heighes told me that his organization had considered using a backup facility in Gainesville, Fla., to serve as an alternative to Atlanta. Gainesville is a far more commutable distance for Energy Authority employees, but Heighes was feeling very good about the decision to stick with Atlanta after Gainesville was roughed up during last year's hurricane season.

Just how far does one have to go to escape the eye of the storm, and how much are managers willing to spend on technology and contingency plans they hope they'll never use? Over the past several years--thanks to 9/11, the 2003 blackout, and the 2004 hurricane season--as far away and as much money as it takes. Society has become too reliant on technology to take Mother Nature lightly.

For additional information and perspective on Katrina, check out Boing Boing's roundup of New Orleans blogs, webcams and other Web resources. You'll also find information about how you can help the storm's victims.

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