By Elissa Silverman and Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writers
September 21, 2005
The rescue effort began two days after the city flooded, and interim
technology manager Rajeev Jain entered the building not knowing what
to expect. The ground floor of the New Orleans school system
headquarters was under three inches of water, and when he headed
upstairs, he saw that the fourth-floor ceiling was damaged and
Jain hailed police to sledgehammer through a locked door. He found
what he was looking for in a storage closet: 170 dry and apparently
undamaged computer backup tapes storing recently updated payroll
records and other critical financial information.
Working from an International Business Machines Corp. data recovery
center in New York, Jain and colleagues from Alvarez & Marsal Business
Consulting LLC were able to recreate the school district's computer
system from afar. Last week the school system resumed issuing
paychecks to New Orleans teachers.
As the Gulf Coast cleans up after Hurricane Katrina, computer
consultants, data recovery companies, and government and business
officials say the area was apparently spared the worst when it comes
to the condition of the computer records and backup systems.
Government institutions and large companies generally had adequate
backup systems in place and data-recovery contracts with firms such as
IBM to help rescue damaged data tapes and rebuild software systems.
The best-prepared had backup files stored on computers outside the
"I don't know of any situation we're dealing with . . . right now that
the data is not recoverable," said Don DeMarco, general manager for
IBM's business continuity and recovery sector.
Disaster recovery has become a $6 billion share of the computer
industry as companies and governments have taken to heart the lessons
of lightning strikes, floods and other incidents, such as the Sept.
11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Unlike physical assets such as a building
or inventory, lost information can be impossible to replace and can
make it nearly impossible for a business to reopen.
Major companies such as IBM and SunGard Data Systems Inc. have entire
corporate campuses devoted to data recovery. Concerns about file
protection have even shaped government decisions about where to put
offices. In May, the Agriculture Department, for example, said it
planned to move the payroll and other operations of its National
Finance Center from New Orleans to Kansas City, Mo.
The agency noted in announcing the move that computer operations in
New Orleans "have significant exposure to risk" -- and indeed the
facility's operations had to be shifted to off-site backup locations
after the hurricane.
Not everybody was protected.
Kyle Mickelson, who runs a computer repair and support business in
Gulfport, Miss., said that a number of his clients did not have backup
accounting or customer records and lost all that information in the
storm. He has also taken in dozens of water-damaged computers and
hasn't been able to recover data from any of them.
Others who thought they had made adequate precautions found that the
magnitude of Katrina overwhelmed even the best planning.
Jacqueline Mae Goldberg, a personal injury lawyer who practiced in New
Orleans, said she created backup files and stored them at her home. In
an e-mail she said both places were wrecked by the storm.
"We've had a number of calls from companies in utter chaos," said Mike
Sullivan, a senior vice president of VeriCenter Inc., a Texas firm
that does data storage and backup. "They're at risk of losing their
business, especially small and mid-sized companies."
The extent of such damage will take time to assess. Those businesses
that did have backup and emergency plans sometimes found that it not
only protected their data, but also kept them operating throughout the
hurricane and its aftermath.
SCP Pool Corp., a New Orleans-based wholesaler of pool supplies, was
able to relocate its corporate headquarters to VeriCenter's Dallas
offices, where critical company information was backed up. As a
result, there was no significant disruption to the delivery and
distribution of its products from 200 centers around the country, said
technology director Tim Babco.
=A9 2005 The Washington Post Company
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