Disaster Recovery: Are You Prepared for the Storm?


Are you prepared for the storm? Has anyone else taken notice of that little storm brewing in the Caribbean? At every update, the path of the little storm keeps drifting west, almost as if the storm really wants to go to Disney World. All kidding aside, Hurricane Matthew is, at the time of this writing, a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. The storm is currently heading over Haiti and moving toward the Bahamas, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

I have lived most of my life in Florida, so I have become pretty accustomed to not having a summer, so to speak; rather, we locals commonly refer this time as “hurricane season.” It has been well over a decade since a major hurricane has struck the US mainland. This leads me to my question: how prepared are you and your company for the upcoming storm? Some of you might not be too worried, but before everyone becomes too complacent, there is a chance it will hit in the US. There are a couple of tracks that have the storm following the Gulf Stream north and possibly making landfall in North Carolina. It could become a Category 3 storm paying a visit to New York City or Washington DC. That would not be pretty. I have to wonder how many companies would just not recover from a storm like that. I hope for the best, yet fear the worst—that the aftermath could be similar to the aftermath of Katrina. If Matthew makes landfall in New York City, Katrina would seem like a walk in the park in comparison. Did we learn our lesson as an industry from Hurricane Katrina? I am terrified to ask that question, because I am not sure I want to hear the answer.

Things have changed dramatically in IT since that late August day in 2005 when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. To put things in perspective, at that time virtualization was still in its infancy. Most data centers were still running most of their applications and services on physical hardware. In November of that year, the company I was working with had a disaster recovery test scheduled in which the team took a trip to a recovery data center and spent the next few days recovering the environment from backup tapes. Today, that sounds absolutely absurd, but at the time it was the way things were done.

Luckily for us, this was only a test, and after a few days we got to return home. However, I met a group of people from New Orleans. For them, it was no test as they recovered the environment and made plans to remain in that new city for the long haul. Virtualization has changed things, especially when it comes to disaster recovery. When it came time for my 2006 disaster recovery test, the company I was working with had made the move to virtualization and was replicating data to the recovery site. When I arrived for the exercise, I was able to bring up the environment in less than an hour. It was a very easy week for me; I had a lot of free time to explore the city while my peers who were still restoring from tape were calling me all sorts of names.

Now we can replicate our virtual machines at will to different areas and be in a constant state of readiness for any and all states of emergency. It is not the technology that leaves me concerned, but rather the saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make the horse drink.” Just because companies have the technology at their disposal does not mean those companies will take advantage of it and be as prepared as companies usually become shortly after any major catastrophe. So let me ask: how prepared are you for the storm?

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Steve Beaver
Stephen Beaver is the co-author of VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center and Scripting VMware Power Tools: Automating Virtual Infrastructure Administration as well as being contributing author of Mastering VMware vSphere 4 and How to Cheat at Configuring VMware ESX Server. Stephen is an IT Veteran with over 15 years experience in the industry. Stephen is a moderator on the VMware Communities Forum and was elected vExpert for 2009 and 2010. Stephen can also be seen regularly presenting on different topics at national and international virtualization conferences.

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