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MasterCard Moves To Avert Disaster

Financial-services firm spends almost $50 million on new business-continuity site

3 Min Read

Protecting sensitive information should be as natural as watching out for the bottom line. But for many businesses, it's not the highest priority. A report issued by advisory firm Gartner last week found that many companies are confused about the requirements of contingency planning and can't get funding to improve backup facilities.

MasterCard Inc. isn't one of them. The financial-services company seems to have its disaster-recovery efforts well in hand. In June, the company will transfer its contingency data center from Lake Success, N.Y., to Kansas City, Mo., just 240 miles from its headquarters in St. Louis. The bill for the project will be less than $50 million, says Artie Ahrens, senior VP of computer and network services.

MasterCard can't afford even a few minutes of downtime, says VP Bray (left), with senior VP Ahrens.

The 9/11 tragedy reinforced the need for the data center move, Ahrens says, but plans were well on their way as of 1998, when Mike Bray, MasterCard's VP of managerial services, started looking into options. As a company that can't afford even a few minutes of downtime, there was never a question about the need for business-continuity planning. "But the contingency site in New York was too far away," Ahrens says. "We wanted a site we could get to quickly by airplane, car, or bus."

Good thinking, says Meta Group industry analyst Carl Greiner. "The longer the distance, the harder it is to manage business continuity because of synchronization and people issues," he says.

MasterCard's partner banks process 99.99% of the real-time transactions created when consumers pull out the company's credit cards. Most of MasterCard's processing comes at night, when the banks clear their transactions for the day. At its primary data center, the credit-card company has the mainframe capacity to process 2 billion instructions per second. The contingency center will start with capacity to process about 575 million instructions per second. "Kansas City has a lot of unused capacity, and we expect to bring it in like it's across the street," Ahrens says.

Besides Kansas City's proximity to St. Louis, Ahrens likes the location because it's a long way from a big underground fault that runs east of St. Louis. Additionally, expected networking advances should position the center for real-time backup in the next couple of years.

While MasterCard realizes it can't control Mother Nature's extremes or terrorist attacks, or when either might occur, the company is doing what it can to withstand the most likely scenarios. Its primary and contingency data centers "are built and designed to withstand 125-mile-per-hour winds," Bray says. "They're also positioned within the lay of land where a tornado is less likely to hit."

According to Gartner's study, which is based on feedback from 205 companies, many businesses don't have money for an effective process, while others are worried about losing already-committed funds. A third of the respondents say they'll lose data or operational efficiency in the event of a disaster; 40% say they can't bring in expert help; and 37% say they need more money to get their business-continuity strengthened.

Photo Courtesy Of MasterCard

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