New Orleans Parish School Board

The New Orleans Parish School board tells its post-Katrina storage and security story

August 18, 2007

3 Min Read
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Networkers Live Conference -- Users struggling with the day-to-day challenges of managing storage should spare a thought for Peggy Villars Abadie, executive director of the New Orleans Parish School Board, whose organization had to somehow secure its data in the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. (See Bank Battens Hatches, Hurricanes Spark Security Threats, and Beware of Hurricanes.)

Speaking here this week, Abadie described a scenario that is every CIO's nightmare. "We lost so much hardware," she explained. "We were able to gather up about 35 to 40 percent of our prior assets [but] 10 to 15 percent was not salvageable."

As well as ravaging the board's storage and server infrastructure, the exec said that her networking gear was also decimated. "We lost a lot of LAN switches, core switches, and routers to humidity -- even when the waters receded, there was no air conditioning to dry out the technology."

Looting was also a big issue. "We had [just] deployed 94 videoconferencing units from Polycom [and] now we have eight."

With sensitive data on its hardware, the school board also faced the challenge of making sure that this information did not fall into the wrong hands. "The city was dangerous, people were living in the schools," said the exec, explaining that she was forced put out an RFP to find a vendor to salvage whatever data was available from schools' hardware.One of the board's systems integrators eventually won the deal. "They put together a team of five or six people, and our IT people told them what to get," Villars Abadie said, explaining that this meant entering storm-ravaged buildings under police guard. "Anything that was not salvageable, they destroyed the disk drive on site by drilling a hole through it."

The Parish's most critical data was held within its data center, which also needed to be retrieved in the aftermath of the storm. "Within a week of the storm the [board] IT team was in the data center taking all the server drives." The server containing student data was eventually set up on the dining-room table of one of the database administrators.

As a result, the board secured all the data on its then-90,000 students. "We didnt lose any student information or finance information out of the data center, [but] we lost all of our contract information," which was stored only in paper format.

Now, the school board uses a service provider in Maine for disaster recovery of its critical data, and has also started to piece together a new hardware infrastructure. A 4-Tbyte IBM Shark storage system, for example, is still stuck in a building inaccessible to Villars Abadie and her staff.

She said she is looking to deploy a disk-based backup system, possibly from IBM, to replace the Shark, and is also planning a new storage system for students.The school board is putting the finishing touches to a project that will store individual work folders for its post-Katrina population of between 9,000 and 10,000 students, according to the exec. Running on IBM blade servers, the system, which goes live this school year, will initially offer 500 Mbytes of storage space for each student. (See Insider: Storage Boosts Blades and Blade Staredown.)

Despite the strides made by the school board, Villars Abadie admits that the emotional strain of Katrina is still immense. "My office is around 80 people -- over 50 percent of them lost everything that they had and they are still wrangling with insurance companies and FEMA," she said. "The emotional toll is huge."

A survey by AT&T last month warned that with another hurricane season looming, some 28 percent of U.S. companies do not have adequate disaster recovery plans in place to cope with natural or other potential disasters. (See 25% Unprepared for Disaster.)

— James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Polycom Inc.

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