Backup data centers are an integral part of all financial institutions. An extraordinary amount of time and money goes into developing them, which includes finding the right location, using the appropriate technology, changing processes to incorporate the new facility and testing. Unfortunately, on Sept. 11, 2001, Wall Street was given a stark reminder of the importance of maintaining disaster recovery sites.
Now, more than ever, as acts of terrorism continue to be perpetrated around the world, and natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, threaten the nation's coastlines, financial institutions need to make sure that their information is secure. Most firms have gone to great lengths to safeguard their data, establishing up-to-date data recovery facilities powered by leading-edge technology and systems. But for many, the process is ongoing, as firms continue to figure out the best way to set up secure and reliable backup data centers.
Few institutions know more about the importance of having a safe and functioning backup site than Boston-based Putnam Investments. Its sister company, insurance brokerage firm Marsh, which is owned by parent Marsh & McLellan Companies, lost close to 300 people the day the Twin Towers fell, and many of those lost were technologists. "Quite frankly, we had a baptism by fire a few years ago," says Philippe Bibi, chief technology officer at Putnam. "The data center was completely vaporized, if you will, so we had to respond for our sister company, Marsh," he adds.
Since the companies are run independently, Bibi relates, Putnam technicians did not have any prior knowledge of Marsh's systems. As a result, it took Putnam about four business days to recover Marsh's critical systems.
To ensure business continuity, Mellon Financial Corp. maintains two primary, redundant data centers located in Pittsburgh. Currently, however, Mellon is doing due diligence on a new data recovery site, which it plans to build in Western Pennsylvania. The firm hopes to have the facility up and functioning by 2007.
Location, Location, Location
Mellon's primary reason for choosing the location of the new site was that it wanted to increase the physical separation between its two computer facilities in Pittsburgh, while at the same time maintaining its capabilities with respect to synchronous data replication and recovery of all its applications, according to Frank Dittrich, senior vice president of information technology services at Mellon. Dittrich notes that while some firms may elect to use an asynchronous state of replication, which allows for increased geographic dispersion, "The down side is that it puts your primary data center and your recovery site out of sync in terms of the data - by minutes to hours - depending on how the companies elect to configure themselves," he says.
In choosing and designing the new site, Mellon considered the ability of its network to connect the two data centers via high-speed connections, as well as the capacity of the new facility's storage system and its ability to protect the data. The center also has to support high-volume transactional systems, Dittrich notes.
Additionally, Mellon looked at the probability of natural disasters in the region and the quality of the infrastructure. "We had to be aware of where railroad lines ran, where hazardous material is carried, where the airports and nuclear power plants are, and how the site would be affected by natural events that can impact Western Pennsylvania, such as heavy rains and winter storms," Dittrich explains.