The financial-services company is moving its contingency data center from Lake Success, N.Y., to bring it closer to corporate headquarters in St. Louis.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 7, 2003

3 Min Read

Protecting sensitive information should be as natural as watching out for the bottom line. But for many companies, that's not the highest priority. A report issued by Gartner this week found that many companies are confused about the requirements of contingency planning and can't get the 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.

The 9/11 tragedy, Ahrens says, reinforced the need for the data-center move, but plans were well under way as far back as 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."

That's good thinking, says Meta Group industry analyst Carl Greiner. "The longer the distance, the harder it is to cover 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 use the company's credit cards. Most of MasterCard's processing takes place 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.

In addition to Kansas City's proximity to St. Louis, Ahrens likes the location because it's a long way from a big fault that runs underground 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. "Both 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."

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

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