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Hurricanes, floods, fiber cuts keep IT pros on their toes

Twenty-five percent of survey respondents admitted their companies don't have a disaster preparedness and response plan in place.

By , Network World
September 12, 2012 11:29 AM ET

Network World - Many companies are prepared for a disaster, with plans and technologies in place to help sustain operations in the wake of severe weather, hardware failures, human error, and accidents. But not every company is covered. In a survey conducted by Network World and IT management software maker SolarWinds, 25% of respondents admitted their companies don't have a disaster preparedness and response plan in place. Among those without a plan, 57% said they'll create one in the next 12 months.

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There's good reason to make that happen: Among the 230 IT pros who responded to our survey, 27% said they've been unable to go into the office because of a disaster of some kind. Of those, 34% missed a week or more of work because of the incident.

"During a severe storm an electrical surge caused our UPS to shut down, taking down our data center," recalled one survey participant. "After this we added a whole building surge suppression system."

Another company lost connectivity in its office for a week after a backhoe cut through the building's phone lines and fiber. The company quickly moved its servers and set up shop in an employee's home. "We are a software developer, [so we] were able to bring up our web site at an employee's house within half a day. Clients didn't know we had a problem," the IT pro said, but it was a "big headache for the network guys, cleaning, buying, rebuilding."

Another respondent cited multiple outages at his company. In one instance, a server room was exposed to smoke from a fire and "all the equipment had to be removed and cleaned, stopping the business for a week." Another time, a flood crippled the business -- 1,500 people across 50 sites -- for nearly three days because voice, WAN and Internet were all routed through a single fiber connection to the carrier's exchange, which was powered down due to flooding.

Despite the horror stories, it can be difficult for IT pros to convince senior management of the risks of insufficient business continuity planning. When asked about the attitude of senior non-IT management toward disaster preparedness and response investments, just 31% of survey respondents said it's a top or high priority. Another 29% said it's a medium priority, and 40% said it's a low priority or management is unconcerned.

Sometimes, it takes a disaster to get the message across.

In one instance, corporate finance nixed IT's plans to deploy a backup AC system during data center construction. When temperatures in the data center soared past 90 degrees, it resulted in a shutdown of nearly all server resources. The result? A "new, dedicated backup AC installed [and] connected to the building's backup generator," the respondent said.

"Flooding can be an issue during hurricanes, nor'easters and other similar events," said another IT pro whose company is located in a low-lying coastal area. "We justified our demands that the servers not get shoved in the basement at our main site when it was flooded out during [hurricane] Irene. Nothing learned the hard way, thankfully."

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