Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

An Emergency Backup for Business

Disaster recovery facilities, which specialize in keeping companies going even when their buildings are no longer accessible, have increasingly been in demand since Sept. 11.

July 03, 2006|From the Associated Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — In a dimly lighted office accessible by an underground tunnel, dozens of telephones sit silently on desks topped with powered-down computers. Even during business hours, empty chairs line rows of vacant workstations.

But this ghost office deep inside a bland suburban office park probably will be bustling with activity before the end of hurricane season as companies with locations in any hard-hit areas around the South fly in employees to keep their businesses running.

The office, one of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 70 disaster recovery centers around the world, is a home away from home for Hewlett-Packard's corporate customers when their buildings are shut down by natural disaster, security threat, terror attack or more mundane power and system failures.

It's part of the rapidly growing disaster-recovery industry that specializes in keeping businesses afloat even when their buildings are under water or otherwise inaccessible.

"This part of the business didn't exist five years ago," said Mark Vanston, a senior strategist at Hewlett-Packard, which is based in Palo Alto. "Five years ago, people didn't think of office recovery. They just thought of data. Now they want places people can go that feel like an office in case of disaster."

The need for backup plans was highlighted five years ago by the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which disrupted the business of some of the world's largest financial companies and forced the New York Stock Exchange to close for four business days.

Since then, the pace of the industry's development has quickened, particularly in the South after last year's devastating hurricanes, said Ed Devlin, a disaster specialist and author of the upcoming book "Preparing Your Executives to Manage a Crisis."

Mid-size companies that can't afford to invest in their own recovery efforts are beginning to look to companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM Corp., SunGard and others. And even large corporations with their own contingency plans have turned to disaster-recovery services to help handle some tasks, such as payroll.

"This is a fundamental concern on the part of any operation. It's everybody's job to be prepared for disaster -- not just the people in the computer center -- because everything is at risk," said John Copenhaver, president of the nonprofit Disaster Recovery Institute.

IBM has seen increased demand for its dozens of data recovery sites and three mega-centers in the U.S. -- even in low-risk areas -- thanks to a spate of regulatory and statutory requirements designed to protect information, said Don DeMarco, the company's vice president of business continuity and recovery services.

Yet many companies remain reluctant to plan for the worst.

"We encourage companies to really focus on which business processes are most precious to the firm," DeMarco said. "We're seeing a lot more energy, but there's not enough. There's kind of a big surge of interest around hurricane season, but it falls off."

Randy Ostler, the chief information officer of Miami-based Intermex Wire Transfer, a Hewlett-Packard customer, said last year's hurricane season reinforced the importance of a disaster plan.

The building that once housed his company was so shoddy, he worried the computer system for his financial company would falter when it rained. So he moved the office to a more secure building and updated the firm's disaster plans.

"Downtime is lost business," Ostler said.

During the height of last year's hurricane season, Hewlett-Packard's emergency office in Alpharetta, Ga., became packed with corporate refugees. Sixty-six of the company's clients in affected areas came to rely on the center to keep their operations running.

It's connected to the main Hewlett-Packard building through an underground passage. Connections to the outside world -- including power and data -- have two backups to provide safety nets. And the building is fed by multiple high-bandwidth Internet connections.

Banks of computers can quickly be programmed to boot company software to handle call services, payroll or other crucial services.

The office's heating, cooling and power are monitored by maintenance staff, and specialists watch network connections to secure them against intrusion, viruses and industrial sabotage, said Richard Light, the building's manager.

In all, the facility has about 500 seats, enough room to accommodate several companies in private office space so competitors don't have to worry about working side by side. In the parking lot, several "hitching posts" sit where companies can link mobile trailers.

Down an empty hall, a dark room welcomes exhausted techies who can take a nap and watch TV. Another room sports comfy leather couches and an Xbox video game console. Down the hall, a lounge with a foosball table and a fully stocked snack-and-juice bar awaits.

"We're looking at all risk factors here," said John Bennett, Hewlett-Packard's worldwide director of business continuity.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|