Catastrophes during the VMworld Tour of 2017

Between the start of VMworld Las Vegas and the end of VMworld Barcelona, several tragic catastrophes occurred. Their names will live on, throughout time, in infamy. These catastrophes are Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Jose. Then within a few weeks VMworld Barcelona, Hurricane Maria.

The devastation that was left in the wake of these hurricanes has not been seen since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The pictures and the images of the flooding that happened in Houston could easily be mistaken for the images of the flooding that happened in New Orleans. However, the devastation that we have seen and witnessed so far is, I am afraid, just the tip of the iceberg—pictures and reports from the islands in the Caribbean continue to arrive.

Unfortunately, I experienced the effects from these hurricanes firsthand, but I consider myself quite lucky to still have my home and my family. My life has gotten back to “normal.” We lost power from the effects of Hurricane Irma for a total of six days, twenty-one hours, and thirty-two minutes. Not that I was counting or anything. It was an uncomfortable week for me and my family. This experience has left me reevaluating my personal priorities: namely, moving a generator toward the top of my own personal list, considering that in the Florida Keys, twenty-five percent of the houses were completely destroyed and another sixty-five percent of the houses were damaged. While it took a week for me to get power and normalcy back, it will take months for the islands in the Caribbean to get to the same point.

These current events are déjà vu for the events of the past, but I am encouraged that the disaster recovery plans that were implemented appear to be working much better then what was implemented in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, virtualization was still in its infancy, and the concept of cloud computing was still being developed with the relaunch of what is now known as Amazon Web Services in 2006. This was a time when disaster recovery was viewed more as an afterthought, or for a lot of companies, it was nonexistent. An article from USA Today in 2007—two years after Hurricane Katrina—estimates that 7,900 businesses in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana dropped out of existence as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Some of those businesses failed due to the lost revenue resulting from the displacement of nearly half a million people from the region, but many of those businesses failed as a direct result of the destruction, due to impact the storm had on their ability to continue operating.

For me, 2005 was the last year that I traveled for an annual disaster recovery exercise at the recovery data center to test the ability to restore infrastructure from backup tapes. It was that year when I had the opportunity to talk with a recovery team, up from New Orleans, that was doing the same—but for them, this was not test. I learned that most of this recovery team had been told that they were going to have to remain at the recovery site, far from home, for months on end. I’d like to make sure to give credit where credit is due: that recovery team from New Orleans was able to recover their data and brought their infrastructure back to life in a new temporary home.

In my opinion, most businesses in the affected areas will never recover, just as in New Orleans, and for the same reasons. For them, normalcy will not be measured in days, but rather in months and years. Now, here is what I believe is the good news, if there can be any when discussing these events. The larger, multinational companies that found themselves in the path of these devastating storms this year were able to migrate resources out of the way before the impending destruction, and they never ended up experiencing any loss of data or service. I think we will see reports of small and local businesses that have migrated more to the cloud and still have their online presence up and available, but they will struggle with the ability to replenish their inventory.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a couple of questions became the topic of many meetings. What did we learn? What could we have done better? Unfortunately, several companies were forced to learn the hard way that disaster recovery is not something that just is nice to have, but rather, is a business requirement that must be established and rehearsed. Virtualization and cloud computing have changed the world, with data and compute mobility being one of the cornerstones of the technology. As such, it is nice to see disaster recovery and business continuity becoming more and more directly integrated into products and services, which reduces the need for extensive planning and staffing to plan and practice the recovery. We have come a long way technically since 2005, but we still have a long way to go in the future, because you never know when you will be tested for real in the next world event.

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