Disaster Recovery

July 1996


Backup facilities ensure continuity of service during emergencies.

A flurry of disasters in recent years has prompted agencies to design detailed recovery procedures for data centers. These plans designate what happens to federal data in the event of a fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, bombing or other emergency. But many government organizations have failed to reach their disaster readiness goals.

After evaluating recovery plans at 16 Defense Department data-processing megacenters, the Defense Information Systems Agency concluded last year that most of the centers were not prepared for large scale disasters. The centers, which handle administrative functions such as payroll, have reciprocal agreements whereby each would take on certain duties for the other during an emergency. But the problem is no center has the capacity to take on more than a fraction of another's work load.

The House Appropriations Committee was so concerned about DoD's flawed contingency plans that it ordered DISA to spend $16.5 million to fix the problem this year. One option for DoD might be to turn to commercially provided "hot sites"-remote computing centers where critical data can be shifted during emergencies. These facilities, maintained by companies such as Comdisco, IBM and SunGuard Recovery Services, contain backup tape libraries, computers and telecommunications equipment powered by alternative sources.

Vendors generally offer several hot sites across the country, so that agencies will not have to go too far from home. When a Wall Street blackout knocked out computer operations at the Federal Reserve Bank a few years ago, data was handled by a hot site across the river in New Jersey.

A critical component of recovery services is the ability to retrieve lost data from hard drives, backup tapes, floppy disks and other magnetic media damaged by natural disasters, viruses, hardware/software malfunctions or human error. Companies such as IBAS Laboratories and Ontrack Data Recovery specialize in repairing computer file allocation tables and volume descriptor tables. With fees ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, data-recovery firms provide emergency services to those who fail to back up critical data.

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