IBM unveils higher level of disaster recovery services

To help customers be better prepared in the event that a disaster strikes their IT operations, IBM today is launching a new services unit that focuses on quickly getting businesses back on their feet after their IT infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.

In an announcement today, IBM said the new applications and data continuity practice are being established within IBM's Global Services arm and will bring together new and existing technologies to help customers prepare for the unexpected. Instead of getting affected businesses back in operation within several days, the new methods should allow businesses to resume operations within about 20 minutes by maintaining linked remote systems that are fully synchronized with the main IT systems, IBM said.

A key part of the new practice is ensuring that customer applications and data files are available from a remote location if disaster strikes a main data center, said Roger Schwanhausser, director of storage services at IBM Global Services. Too often, he said, customers think that if their data is backed up remotely, getting back into operation after a disaster is as simple as flicking a switch.

Instead, he said, data isn't usually available quickly from a redundant data center if the system has to first be fired up and prepared for use.

IBM will now help customers create parallel remote data centers that feature cluster management capabilities on servers or mainframes, depending on the needs of the businesses. By organizing the remote data centers as offshoots of the main data facilities, all specified data and applications can be mirrored in a "shadow infrastructure" and be available in an emergency, Schwanhausser said. The remote centers can be located thousands of miles away.

"There have been pieces of this total solution in place in the past," he said, but few businesses have prepared themselves for fast redeployment in case of an emergency.

The new services unit comes at a time when more businesses are looking over contingency plans just eight months after the terrorist attacks on the U.S., he said. Before Sept. 11, "there wasn't the heightened interest and concerns about business continuity," Schwanhausser said. "Not to overstress it, but [Sept. 11] caused us all to re-evaluate a lot of things."

The new services are targeted at financial, travel and retail businesses -- where immediate recovery is critical and can mean the difference between continued sales and huge revenue losses.

Pricing for the consulting and configuration services will likely range from the hundreds of thousands of dollars for businesses with modest needs to tens of millions of dollars for businesses with large needs. Once established, the facilities will be run by the IT staffs of the client companies.

Dianne McAdam, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said IBM's approach is sensible because it prepares for disaster recovery from many angles, not just data recovery. "What happens sometimes is customers tend not to think of the bigger picture," she said. "What they're doing is sitting down with a customer and piecing it all together."

The IBM approach will allow customers to put into effect a multiphase disaster recovery plan, with critical applications and data restored quickly and less important applications and data restored later using traditional tape restoration, which is far less costly, McAdam said.

Customers often forget about applications as they plan their backup programs, she said, adding, "Every customer wants to do business continuity and recovery planning, but they don't know where to get started."

Jim Garden, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. in Hampton, N.H., said IBM's new services are "expanding the envelope on disaster recovery" in a field that is maturing. "It makes sense from a business point of view," he said.

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