September 09, 2011, 7:36 PM — There’s no equating the horrific, world-changing terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, with any other disaster we’ve experienced in the United States in the 21st century. That day, nearly 3,000 lives were taken in a matter of hours. This Sunday, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it is those lives we will honor, as well as the brave men and women around the country who did their part that day and in the days that followed to help us recover, heal and live on.
What IT executives around the country realized, amid all the destruction and violence, was that new business and IT contingency plans were in order. Pre 9/11, had you asked any data center manager, IT executive or CIO, they would have told you that disaster recovery is a critical part of any sound business technology strategy. That has long been a widely-held view. But with 9/11, disaster recovery took on a whole new meaning. It was no longer just about how to protect data centers, but also how to quickly – almost immediately – recover and continue operations in the event of any disaster: natural, man-made, or heaven forbid, terrorist-wrought.
The loss of equipment in the financial district was unbelievable. IT and telecommunications equipment housed underneath the World Trade Centers was destroyed. It was estimated by the Tower Group that the securities firms alone would have to spend up to $3.2 billion just to replace their computer equipment, and another $1.5 billion to set it all up. We’re talking thousands and thousands of workstations, PCs, servers, printers, network equipment, and more.
In September 2001, many companies had disaster recovery plans that leveraged onsite backups to tapes that were then transported and stored elsewhere. Fewer were leveraging hot site backups that create mirror images at alternative sites, which while more costly, allows for much quicker access. If backups are real-time (even more costly) or near real-time, then companies are guaranteed those replicated systems will be exactly as they need them to be when switching over.
Wall Street was relatively well prepared. The New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq exchange had to close for four business days after the attack, then re-opened. Many of the larger and more technically proficient businesses in and around the World Trade Center were leveraging real-time data backup at secondary data centers. But not all their noncritical applications were being backed up that way, and much time was taken to recreate those. While mainframe and back-office operations were well-prepared, other business processes were not. That lesson taught IT managers to assess which servers and applications in their data centers and even in their various departments should be included in a more intensive disaster recovery plan.