New Priorities

The planning and products needed to weather disasters are taken more seriously today

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 6, 2002

4 Min Read

Maury Myar's company came out of Sept. 11 without much damage. Money-management firm Cramer Rosenthal McGlynn LLC, where Myar is chief technology officer and a principal, has its headquarters on Madison Avenue near the edge of midtown Manhattan. It lost all communications that day, but the firm had a backup office in White Plains, N.Y., north of the city, and Quantum Corp. Super Loader tape libraries at each site ensured that vital company information was backed up. The data was there for traders to do their work. But there were problems. Not all employees could retrieve E-mail because there weren't enough desktops or servers. The company also has realized that its contract with application service provider Allegiance doesn't provide enough bandwidth for remote access if both Manhattan and White Plains go down. So another backup facility is being created in Wilmington, Del., with Santa Monica, Calif., also a possibility.


The firm has decided it needs a higher standard of protection. "We're trying to be totally disaster-proof," Myar says. He and the management team decided that they need more documentation of the recovery plan and better identification of potential risks. They also need more assurance that certain applications, particularly those related to trading, are protected at all times.

Another New York company used to simply replicate its SQL Server data from site to site. But to Christopher Black, network operations manager at Informa Group PLC, a portfolio manager that's a subsidiary of Effron Enterprises Inc., that process was slow, required too much equipment, and didn't guarantee that each site was up to date. "In any disaster, we'd be a whole database behind in what we'd recover," Black says. Effron switched to an EMC Clariion storage system running MirrorView Over IP software to replicate as much as 100 Gbytes of financial data daily between Manhattan and White Plains, where Effron is based.

Annaly Mortgage Management Inc. is a small midtown Manhattan company that can't afford an expensive backup system. But in the summer of 2001, its board of directors asked for a more secure system, prompting the company to contract for a combination of services from LiveVault Corp. and Iron Mountain Inc. to back up its data. While the system was in place before Sept. 11, people now view it as more than a board directive. "We took it seriously last year but not as much as we have since 9/11," says Jennifer Stephens, executive VP and corporate secretary, who leads the company's technology effort. "Before, it was because someone asked a question. After, it's because you might actually need it."

Even a company such as FedEx Corp., which has put tremendous effort into keeping everything from earthquakes to political unrest to failed computers from delaying its time-sensitive work, has changed its point of view. The company has expanded what it considers in the potential scope of disasters, says executive VP and CIO Rob Carter. Sept. 11 proved "the implausible could become plausible and the unimaginable could become real," he says. FedEx has focused on being able to reroute its data network to make sure it has continuous access to customer information, which gives it the tools to physically switch cargo traffic from, say, the air-express network to ground transport.


American Express Co. had its business-continuity plan tested to the limits, and it delivered. The financial-services company lost access to its Manhattan headquarters adjacent to the World Trade Center for several months, forcing thousands of employees to work from temporary offices. But the company has learned some lessons, leading it to create more-flexible means for employees to work remotely, including cell phones, remote E-mail access, and mobile messaging via BlackBerry handheld devices.

What the company couldn't prepare for was the emotional aspects of a workforce suffering the loss of family members and friends while trying to return to work. Instead, American Express has tried to anticipate those concerns and help employees as best a company can. While it was rebuilding its downtown office, people moved back into the building only one floor at a time. Besides making sure employees had time to access counseling services if they needed help returning to Manhattan, the pace allowed IT and facility managers to make sure the offices were prepared. "Everything had to be completely ready because we didn't want them coming back into a building where there were any reminders of the destruction that had taken place," says Steve Karl, American Express' senior VP of technology operations.

No one expects such memories to ever go away. But people in New York and far beyond have done their best to make sure companies, at least, can move forward.--With Eileen Colkin

Photo of Heasley by Ray Ng

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