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The Big Blackout, a Year Later

One year ago tomorrow, a massive blackout wiped out power throughout much of the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, sending companies scampering to keep their businesses up and running. The event was one of several in recent years that have raised awareness of disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC).

"It wasn't just the blackout, but the series of events starting with 9-11 that has raised the consciousness of the American enterprises, nay, the worldwide community, towards data protection in general and DR in particular," says Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at the Taneja Group.

The surprise is by how much.

"We just finished a major study on next-generation remote replication and disaster recovery solutions and were surprised at the level of awareness, even at the storage admin level," Taneja told Enterprise Storage Forum. "I did expect that there would be awareness at the CIO/CEO/CFO level, but I was surprised that 87 percent of the respondents had some type of DR plan in place, either at a side-wide level or at an application-specific level. I can't imagine this would have been even at a 40 percent level in 2001, though I did not measure it at that time."

Laws and regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, and SEC and NASD rules are also driving the need to protect and access data.

"The regulations are driving the need as well," Taneja adds. "In this day and age, if you don't have a DR plan in place, you are being irresponsible as an employee. So the Big Blackout was just icing on the cake — the DR engine had started to move well before that. The other thing to realize is that even mid-size companies are evaluating products in this area. And mercifully, the technology curve has caught up such that DR does not need to be the prerogative of only the rich and few."

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Peter Gerr agrees that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 were a major turning point for disaster recovery and business continuity.

"My take is that while the Northeast blackout certainly caused a lot of inconvenience, it didn't necessarily challenge large companies and enterprises nearly as much as the events of September 11, 2001 did," Gerr told ESF. "Most large Fortune 1000 companies have had disaster recovery and business continuity plans in place for years, but few of these regularly test and update these plans to check the recoverability of their data and how long it will take them to recover."

Gerr sees two trends accelerating the adoption of disaster recovery and business continuity solutions: the need to comply with the new regulations, and the development of lower-cost alternatives to enterprise-class solutions.

"The stakes have never been higher for publicly traded (Sarbanes-Oxley), financial services (SEC and NASD regulations), and soon, healthcare (HIPAA) organizations to ensure that they're both protecting their data and their customer or patient data, and also that the data is readily accessible and retrievable in a timely fashion," Gerr notes.

Gerr says business continuity solutions have become available to a wider range of companies with the emergence of lower-cost ATA disk solutions from the likes of Xiotech, Nexsan, and EMC's CLARiiON ATA, in conjunction with new data management and data protection solutions like virtual tape (Quantum, Overland, FalconStor, Sepaton, Diligent, and EMC's CLARiiON Disk Library), backup to disk targets (NetApp's NearStore, Avamar, and Data Domain), and Continuous Data Protection solutions (Revivio, Mendocino and Topio).

"Users also have a bevy of software solutions that enable intelligent asynchronous replication over IP," Gerr says, calling XOsoft and Topio the "ones to watch" in that space.

"There are more reasons for companies to investigate and invest in DR and BC solutions, but think of them not just for DR as it's been traditionally defined, but for everything from protecting more data online at once, to doing mirroring and snapshotting over distance and over IP for cost savings, to implementing iSCSI solutions that are much less complex and more cost effective than dedicated Fibre Channel links and solutions," Gerr concludes. "More choices, less cost, less complexity and more risk of data loss should add up to an expansion in these technologies."

Companies like XOsoft, which shepherded customers through the Big Blackout without a hitch, have benefited from the increased awareness of disaster recovery needs.

"XOsoft has experienced a spike in sales and overall interest in its disaster recovery and business continuity products over the last year," says XOsoft CEO Leonid Shtilman. "The blackout was certainly one wakeup call for many CIOs, but there are also other factors, such as the prevalence of viruses, the threat of natural disasters and cyber attacks, and simple human error that continue to keep them awake at night."

"Companies are definitely more aware now than they were a year ago with regard to having a dependable disaster recovery solution," says Shtilman.

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