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The disaster-recovery lessons we learned after Katrina

Tony Bradley | Aug. 31, 2015
The destruction of the hurricane itself, and the subsequent flooding that put most of New Orleans underwater knocked many businesses out of commission—and more than a few completely out of existence. Thankfully, we have learned a lot of hard lessons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that businesses can use to be better-prepared for the next major disaster.

LifeShare Blood Centers also figured out that redundancy is essential for business continuity. LifeShare works with Sungard Availability Services to provide disaster recovery and cloud-based resiliency. “If the Shreveport center is down one or two days, it can’t collect the data it needs to provide blood on demand. Due to this, we have the mirror copy of our Shreveport-based data systems replicated in Sungard AS’ northeast data center,” said Ric Jones.

The bonus lesson is to have a plan. It’s almost a certainty that your business will face a major disaster event at some point and you need to have a clear plan in place that defines how to respond and maintain as much normalcy in business operations as is possible.

Ric Jones warned that lack of planning by his organization could have potentially cost lives. “We did not have a disaster recovery plan in place when Katrina struck our office in Shreveport Louisiana and several other regional centers 10 years ago. The storm closed several locations, and as a result, kept blood donors from being able to give blood at a time of substantial demand increase. The levels of critical blood types dropped to dangerously low levels.”

Entergy—one of the largest energy providers in the area—also suffered the wrath of Katrina. Kay Jones, an Entergy spokesperson, explained, “Our data center was in the storm's way, and we were aware of that. After the event, we made a decision to move the data center. Although we didn't have flooding in the immediate area of our data center, there was no power, our lines were down and we had to run on our generator and keep topping it off.”

In response to the struggles it faced during Katrina, Entergy decided in the winter of 2006 to establish two mirror-image data centers in geographically separated regions for better resiliency. Jones said, “We retrofitted an old library in Little Rock with sturdy brick walls, moving hardware and critical applications from New Orleans piece by piece to the backup facility. We had this completed by 2008,” adding, “Our brand-new $30 million Jackson, Mississippi, data center was completed in 2010. We load-balance several systems, including email, between those two facilities.”

It’s easy to understand how a business could crumble and fail following Katrina. A 2013 study by the Ponemon Institute found that an unplanned data center outage costs an average of $7,900 per minute. That’s nearly $500,000 per hour. Many of the affected businesses were much smaller “Mom & Pop” operations that probably lost significantly less than that per minute or hour, but still enough to force the business to shut its doors. There aren’t many businesses with pockets deep enough to keep things afloat when facing those kinds of losses.


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