Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, knows the toll that inadequate disaster recovery technology can take. When the airline's flight assignment system couldn't handle the thousands of weather delays and cancellations that came in on Christmas Day, a computer error occurred that forced the company to cancel all 1,100 of its flights, leaving 30,000 passengers stranded in 118 cities, says Fred Cohen, an analyst at the Burton Group. Episodes like this, coupled with the possibility that a terrorist attack, power grid failure, hurricane, volcanic eruption, flood, or computer failure could strike at any moment, are making network managers all over the country reconsider their business continuity infrastructure.
Fortunately, technology is rising to the occasion. Replication and backup technologies are converging to make sophisticated recovery management doable beyond the mainframe world. In the near future, software will help you calculate the cost of downtime for any application or department and apply that information toward replication and backup decisions. For example, you might decide to protect a business-critical application that needs to be up and running within three minutes with state-of-the-art replication, whereas a less-critical application that can be down for an hour without significant loss can be protected with less-expensive backup.
For those who can't afford full-scale server replication or the services of providers who host them, two relatively new technologies--replication appliances and virtual servers--are bringing lower-cost replication to Windows and Unix environments. Replication appliances allow specific volumes of data to be replicated across a network, rather than replicating the entire storage system itself. Virtual servers provide a hardware-independent and potentially more affordable mechanism for handling replication.
On the traditional backup side of business continuity, technology improvements are bringing about better performance, maintenance, and user-friendliness. The falling price of disk is allowing companies of all sizes to transition backups from tape to disk, allowing for faster recovery, as well as giving IT a break by enabling users to recover their own files.
The newest and least-proven business continuity technology is workflow or business process automation. This promises to help IT managers map all the steps required to recover systems and execute those steps in a crisis.