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Masters of disasters: IT survivors of Katrina, Sandy and other natural disasters share their DR tips and tricks

By James Careless, Network World
October 28, 2013 06:08 AM ET

Network World - Natural and manmade disasters are facts of life. Smart IT managers prepare for the worst before trouble hits, so that the businesses and government institutions that rely on IT can resume normal operations as soon as possible.

disaster recovery
Credit: wikipedia

So what are the nitty-gritty details of anticipating, managing and recovering from disaster? Network World spoke to IT experts and managers who have survived disasters to find out.

1. Identify what needs protecting
 
To successfully prepare for disaster, an IT manager first has to know what elements must be kept out of harm’s way. Data is a no-brainer: Everything that matters should be replicated in a safe second location, either off-premises or in the cloud ­ or both, for redundancy’s sake.

[ALSO: Hurricane Katrina disaster recovery lessons still popping up]

But data is just the beginning: Applications and the facilities to run them also need to be taken into account.

License keys also matter, says Keith Oufnac. He is vice president of Information Technology with Eustis Insurance and Benefits, an insurance agency in New Orleans.  

``When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, we had our license keys safely burned to CDs, which I had packed in my SUV along with backup drives and spare laptops. Today, I simply keep them backed up in my Yahoo email account and on Microsoft SkyDrive. It matters: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we didn’t have any problem reloading applications, because the license keys were all available.

Protection also includes whatever items an IT manager needs to survive personally when disaster strikes. ``My wife and I had bags of clothes, toiletries and other items ready at the door in the buildup to Katrina,’’ Oufnac says. ``So when things got serious, we didn’t have to waste time scrambling around. We were ready to go.’’

While his wife camped out at an Atlanta hotel, Oufnac moved into a four-bedroom house out of the affected area, along with "my parents, grandparents, sister and her husband (two kids 10 and 8), my brother and his girlfriend, three dogs and a partridge and a pear tree," he says.

Back in New Orleans, the family house "had 3.5 feet of water and major roof damage, so it was completely gutted and took almost a year before we moved back in."

Katrina devastated the company’s New Orleans office, which was on the 19th floor of the Amoco building next to the Superdome. "It lost over 2,600 panes of glass and was wrecked on the inside," says Oufnac.

Using the disaster recovery services of Agility Recovery, Oufnac was able to set up a temporary office in Baton Rouge just 36 hours after the storm passed. It was in a double-wide trailer parked behind the company's Baton Rouge strip mall branch.

"I had email and our agency management system completely restored 48 hours after the storm," he says. "I used Backup Exec and had to recreate Active Directory, restore the Exchange server from tape and rehome all 120 mailboxes, then restore the file shares and management system."

Oufnac also had to install Microsoft Office on more than 100 new computers, configure user accounts, printers and email. "We then had to remove everything from the trailer with Hurricane Rita approaching and close down until that storm thankfully passed with limited damage to our immediate area," he says. "Then we reset up all the computers in the trailer and began working again."

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