Expert Talks about Facing Isabel and Data Loss

With Hurricane Isabel roaring up the East Coast, many IT managers in its path are probably thinking about holding off system damage and data loss. Memories of last month's widespread blackout clearly in their minds. Here, a data recovery expert talks with eSecurityPlanet about the cost of data loss and how to avoid it.
Posted September 18, 2003

Sharon Gaudin

With Hurricane Isabel roaring up the East Coast, many IT managers in its path are probably thinking about holding off system damage and data loss. Memories of last month's widespread power blackout and the stunning damage it cost clearly in their minds.

Whether facing a hurricane or a blackout, managing data loss is absolutely critical to keeping a business alive. Preventing data loss is key. But responding to it once it's happened is just as important.

Industry analysts say IT managers need to have plans and procedures in place for dealing with disasters. They need to have well-thought-out systems of reaction and response. Failing to have a disaster recovery plan could prove fatal to the business.

The August blackout is proof of that.

An Info-Tech Research survey found that 60 percent of companies did not have plans and procedures in place to help IT departments deal with the blackout. And 76 percent said the blackout directly affected their organization.

And once data is lost, the company's bean counters can immediately start counting the financial losses.

According to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., 93 percent of companies that lost their data center for 10 days or more due to disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. Fifty percent filed immediately.

Jim Reinert, director of Ontrack DataRecovery Services, based in Eden Prairy, Minn., says his company saw a 39 percent increase in calls the Monday following last month's blackout. Now he's turning his focus toward Hurricane Isabel and the damage the storm might cause.

Reinert talked with eSecurityPlanet about the pain data loss causes a company, how data can be retreived and steps to take to protect your data... especially from Isabel.

Q: What kind of data loss were you seeing after the blackout?
Most of the cases we saw were electronic failures... Sometimes the power failure is quite choppy and the surges can damage the hardware. All hardware is designed to operate at a certain voltage level. Some of those spikes can get through to the computer and fry the circuitry.

Q: What steps do a company usually take before they turn to you?
you first turn to your backup. However there are pitfalls in backups. It's difficult and expensive to make perfect backups. It's not uncommon for companies to have problems with their backups. Maybe they haven't tested them. Maybe they haven't stored the backups away from their production computers. You may need mirrored sites on different power grids. These things make backups complex and costly. We're a backup to your backup.

Q: By the time the problem arrives at your door, how critical is the situation?
It's a lot of pain. Any time you lose data, it's painful... It's a big deal. We find ourselves in a race usually. Companies go to their last backup, even if it's a week old, and begin rebuilding from scratch. At the same time, they send us the drive for recovery. And it's all a race to get their data back... If it's a server system and it's down, you just magnified that downtime by how many employees you have on that server. It's all multiplied. A single desktop goes down. That's bad. If they all go down, it's magnified. There's the cost of employees not working. But there's the cost of losing opportunities and not capturing business.

Q: What advice would you give to IT managers who have companies sitting in the path of Isabel?
If they can, they should elevate computers off the ground floor level. Get those desktops and laptops scattered around the work area. And power down the computers before the storm hits.
Check your backup. Test them to make sure they're functioning properly. Make sure the backup is up-to-date. And store the backup away from the production system... preferably get it out of the way of the storm.
If a computer is damaged with water, you should leave the system wet. Don't dry it out. The recovery process is more difficult if the sediments in the water dry on. Some companies ship us drives inside Coleman coolers to keep these things wet. When we receive it, we can open it and dry it out in a controlled way and have better success.

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