--> Gill Blog: January 2004

Gill Blog

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Mirrored Data Centers - Three Approaches

We have made references to the Interagency Paper on sound practices to strengthen the resilience of the US financial system that was released in its final form last April. It's an important document as it recommends how financial industry participants can address the issue of mimimizing operational downtime by creating redundant facilities. Ideally, such sites are situated far enough away from a central location that they will likely be immune from the negative effects of a large scale disruptive event.

I emphasize final form, as the draft version of the report released in September of 2002 caused an uproar in the financial industry. The reason? The original report mandated that backup sites be situated at a minimum distance from the primary location (if I remember correctly, in some cases this would be in excess of 100 miles). The response was predictable, as financial industry participants made the case that creating mirrored sites so far away would be financially unattainable, not only because of the cost of installing the necessary infrastructure, but because it would impact other areas including human resources. The committee relented and watered down many of its original proposals in the final form. Although the recommendations put forth in this paper were targeted toward the financial industry, other industries have undoubtedly been taking notes.

I thought it might be interesting to see how organizations have gone about addressing their own backup data center strategies, and use three quick case studies that demonstrate that there are still no hard and fast rules. In the first instance, Computer Associates of Islandia, NY made the decision to create its backup data center in the midwest. It seems that this was a decision that was very much based on geography, as their range of nearby possibilities was somewhat limited:
"We are headquartered on Long Island. If we'd gone 50 miles west (of Islandia), the mirrored site would have been located in New York City. So the company made a decision that if we had to go farther west anyway, we might as well put the site in the Midwest," says Walt Thomas, CA's CIO
In this example, the company has moved to a different geographic region, which requires a completely seperate workforce.

This article shows the Florida operation of the Royal Bank of Canada determined that its maximum threshold for operational downtime was two hours. In assessing the range of risks, RBC likely weighted its mitigation strategy not against terrorism, or blackouts, but weather - specifically hurricances. Instead of building a heavily reinforced fortress, it decided to build a data center located 60 miles from the original site. It is interesting to note that this decision was made so RBC could use the same workforce:
Execs decided that the second data center had to be within driving distance, but also had to be somewhere that didn't normally experience the same weather patterns as the primary data center
Yet another approach is demonstrated by a non-financial player - Deloitte & Touche in the creation of the Deloitte & Touche Cyber Center in Amersterdam - a centralized mirrored site designed not only to combine its IT resources distrubuted over 109 locations in The Netherlands, but to do so in a well-designed aesthetically pleasing environment:
On a white board we outlined our vision of what the data center should look like: a corporate facility comprised of two equal columns connected by a central space. We envisioned the columns containing the employee workstations, with each column also featuring a mirrored data center on the ground floor. The central facility was to contain a grand cafe, a place where clients, colleagues and partners, could meet and relax
One of the main reasons Deloitte & Touche chose this option was the inherent cost savings associated with reducing costs on human capital (the mirrored facility is administered by a single team of professionals), a greater degree of location-wide standardization and an overall reduction in the costs associated with systems architecture. It is also interesting to note the emphasis Deloitte & Touche put on design and building selection.

Three distinct businesses, three distinct strategies based on a different evaluative criteria.

Please join the discussion about mirrored data centers.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

A Directory of Topics

If you'd like to browse by topic, simply click on the DIRECTORY link at the top of this page, which will take you to an index of topics discussed on this website. Hopefully, you'll find even more of what you're looking for there, organized by topic headings with a synopsis of each topic.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Civil Contingencies Bill a Patriot Act too, in the UK

Eschewing the patriotic rhetoric of the USA Patriot Act, the British have tabled their own emergency preparedness legislation called the Civil Contingencies Bill. Sounds fair and balanced, doesn't it? The Prime Minister's Office, Number 10 Downing Street, announced the legislation on January 7, 2004 in these terms:
The Civil Contingencies Bill is an important element of the Government's work to enhance the resilience of the United Kingdom to disruptive challenges. We have worked very hard with practitioners to get this bill right, and I am confident that we have achieved the right balance.
Typically British, the language speaks of national resilience; stiff upper lip and all that, chaps. Notably absent is any talk of patriotism as a justification for emergency measures. The Blair government talks of "hard work" and "getting it right" and "achieving the right balance." However, many in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned about the sweeping powers that can be assumed by Number 10 unilaterally declaring an "emergency" even though that definition has been modified in the latest Bill.

The Civil Contingencies Bill has sparked controversy throughout the United Kingdom since the draft provisions were first introduced. Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
The concessions made by the government in no way change the fundamental objections to this Bill. The powers available to the government and state agencies would be truly draconian. Cities could be sealed off, travel bans introduced, all phones cut off, and websites shut down. Demonstrations could be banned and the news media be made subject to censorship. New offences against the state could be "created" by government decree. This is Britain's Patriot Act, at a stroke democracy could be replaced by totalitarianism.
The reaction in the national press is equally concerned. The Independent headlines a "Scared New World" and the Guardian sums up the comments in the press, pro and con. The Evening Standard sounds the alarm that, "The Civil Contingencies Bill is one of the most sweeping pieces of emergency legislation ever framed in Britain and will give ministers more power than ever before."
If approved by Parliament, the Bill would mean that a repeat of the September 11 attacks in Britain would be dealt with in a radically different way from the approach taken by authorities in New York.

That city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, had to use his normal powers to deal with the attack - but in Britain police could order people to leave the zone affected at gunpoint, and take over the public transport system to get them out.

They could also set up an exclusion zone around the target site for an unlimited time, and shoot anyone trying to approach it.

The arrest and detention of suspects could be carried out without the normal limitation of needing reasonable grounds of suspicion to bring charges.


Last autumn senior judges warned their independence was under threat and England's second most senior judge, Lord Justice Judge, said: "There are nasty people out there and there is no guarantee that because we are Great Britain none of them will ever, ever come to power."
At the same time, as civil libertarians discuss concerns about the impact of this Bill on private rights, business continuity experts are assessing the impact of this sweeping legislation on private industry and commerce. Robin Gaddum, a senior consultant with IBM Global Services in the UK, comments on the implications of the Civil Contingencies Bill for British businesses. Discussing the essential differences between Business Continuity Management and Emergency Management, which is ostensibly the purview of the new legislation, he writes:
What are the real differences between the two disciplines? Business continuity is organisation-centric. In other words, it arises within an organisation and is concerned with the continued survival and prosperity of that organisation alone. In this respect, it tends to be more internally than externally focussed, tackling disasters that directly affect its own operations. Emergency management is more community-centric, sitting most naturally in the public sector and straying into the voluntary sector -- it tends to be more externally focussed tackling incidents that impact, or could impact, upon the wider community.
Gaddum says the Civil Contingencies Bill "should stimulate business continuity managers to broaden the scope of their plans, which in the UK are traditionally focussed upon relatively small-scale disasters affecting an organisation's site and its immediate surroundings." It will be interesting to monitor the reactions of specific sectors of private industry and business.

Gill Advisors will continue to follow the debate, amendments and passage of this significant legislation, and relate this to similar enactments in the USA and Canada. As we noted in a post below on December 16, Canada includes in its new Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness the responsibilities for Health Safety, which has not yet been included in the responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security under the Patriot Act. Similarly in the UK, the NHS received new virus and terrorism guidance on January 7, coincidental with the announcement of the Civil Contingencies Bill.

Please join the discussion about the Civil Contingencies Bill.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Secondary Communities a New Haven for Business and Lifestyle

As is the ritual in many families, when the oldest offspring goes off to college it becomes a family affair. This was no different in my family. When my brother secured admission to Yale in the late seventies, mom and dad decided there would be no better way to see him off than to pack us all into the car and make a 10-hour torture drive (not including bathroom and cake breaks at relatives houses along the way) to the storied gates of The Old Campus .

What we experienced when we first arrived in New Haven, Connecticut was never mentioned in any of the tourist guides. It was early evening around dusk, and my folks decided to grab a coffee and donut at a local Dunkin' Donuts outlet while my brother and I found a place to park. We ended up finding a spot a couple of blocks away. By this point, darkness had settled and we found ourselves in a pretty scary place. Storefronts were boarded up and the pungent smell of wafting fumes, stale beer and decay was everywhere. Half the streetlights in the surrounding two blocks were burnt out. Within moments of locking the car, we began to feel the presence of shadowy figures coming out from all the cracks in the darkness of the night. After taking a few steps, we encountered a gang of local hoodlums who began performing very precise and frightening karate kicks very close to our faces. Amid the threats and jeers, it seemed even more of their gang were descending upon us. There was only one thing to do - run; boy did we run. Somehow, we got through that introduction to the community, but it left a lasting impression with me. I planned never again to go to New Haven. It's funny how time has a way of changing everything.

I rediscovered New Haven more than a decade ago (two of my best friends from undergrad live close by - complete with the left turn at Albuquerque), and got the distinct feeling that this was a place that was on the move. Nicely laid out streets, great architecture, a great university, just an hour and a half from Manhattan. New Haven seemed to have it all. Although I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, this town was a place that today could be described as an ideal secondary site location.

Not only are my impressions of New Haven of more than a decade ago completely confirmed by this article, recently published by the Hartford Courant, but it also aligns perfectly with the publication of our latest research on the qualities of great secondary communities. New Haven is one of a number of examples of communities in the United State and Canada that are not only being discovered for their lifestyle amenities, but as great places to do business, too. The abstract of our Research Paper can be read here, and a multimedia presentation on this topic will be published here early next week.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

New Gill Paper: The Bricks and Mortar of Planning

Last September we published a paper discussing the move toward smarter buildings. In it, we focussed on how various technologies or advances in design might help to mitigate the risks associated with events such as blackout. As we start the new year, we publish a new mini-paper - something we call "Continuity Briefs" - focussing on some of the construction and geological nuances of buildings and their ability to withstand natural events such as floods, fires and earthquakes. This seems to be a natural follow-up to last fall's paper and will provide a valuable overview in assessing the viability and stability of backup site selection.

Clearly, this is not my expertise, so we handed the reins of this one over to one of our Senior Principals, Dr. Ajit Gill. Dr. Gill's experience as a civil engineer (both as a consultant and a university professor) makes him the ideal authority on the subject. More importantly, this forum allows him to put his expertise to its current highest and best use as he presents the following paper: The effect of Unforeseen Disasters on Structural Stability.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The Internet is the Killer App

In the early days of the study of business continuity, no one knew that the Internet would be the killer app; the essential technical application facilitating the networking of individuals, businesses and governmental institutions that is at the core of any disaster recovery, survival strategy or business continuity program. A decade ago, trusted news anchors explained the Internet over the familiar medium of television. Doesn't that news flash seem strange, now?

Ten years later, the Pew Research Center just published online the latest report in its Pew Internet & American Life Project detailing the changing picture of who's online and what they do.
The Internet has been irrevocably woven into everyday life for many Americans. While there was once a time when the Internet was interesting because it was dazzling, it is now a normalized part of daily life for about two-thirds of the U.S. population. For some, it has become an integral and required part of work or school. For others, it is a primary means to stay in touch with family and friends. All the trends set out here seem destined to continue, if not evolve, as the technology gets better, the applications become simpler, the appliances that use the Internet become omnipresent, and the technology fades into the background of people’s lives – as powerful, ubiquitous, commonplace, and “invisible” as electricity.
In a report dealing with our business specifically, the Pew Research Center published a survey called The Internet and Emergency Preparedness, which details the importance of this killer app.
While most people would turn first to television to get their information, the recent blackout made clear that multiple alert systems are needed to tell people quickly what is happening.

"Everything we've seen in our research suggests that Americans want every channel of communication fired up when there are emergencies," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "They want horns sounding, radios blaring, TV screens alight with the latest information, pagers buzzing, emails sent, and Web pages updated on the fly. They don't want to have to rely on just one communications method and they don't want one channel to have special privileges over others. They want each one of them used when all hell is breaking loose."
As a reader of this website, you already knew this, of course, and are probably working to ensure your own business continuity using the power of the Internet.