Center for Information Technology Services

Disaster Recovery is Becoming Disaster Avoidance

The UMB campus has for many years developed plans for how to recover from disasters such as floods, power grid failures, hurricanes, and man-made calamities.  As part of these efforts, CITS has stored digital copies of critical systems and data at off-campus storage facilities, backed up data on a frequent basis, cross-trained employees, and made arrangements to use other computer facilities in case campus operations would be unavailable for long periods. Such actions guarantee that in the event of a disaster the campus would be able to resume normal activities after a reasonable amount of time.

In the past five years three things have occurred that have changed our planning:  First, automated systems have become so integrated with our daily activities that no substitute is acceptable. Second, the possibility of disaster is probably greater now than at any time in the past because climate change, overworked electric grids, energy shortages, and the rise of world-wide terrorism have become facts of life.  Fortunately, the third point is that better tools exist now for safeguarding systems and data than did in the past.

CITS has already created “failover” capabilities for many of our critical systems.  This means that if something happens in our computer room or specifically to the hardware on which certain applications run, duplicate hardware and software immediately begin to perform the functions of the disabled system.  This has been accomplished by locating alternate equipment and standby databases in dispersed locations on campus and keeping them updated in near real time to be “in synch” with production systems.  In the future all of the campus’s critical systems will have redundant hardware and replicated software and data in remote locations. This is already the case with our e-mail (Outlook 2007) system, our campus directory, student e-mail (myUMBmail), our websites’ Content Management System database, Blackboard, and Coeus. The recent signing of a lease for a new computer room facility at 300 West Lexington Street creates additional space for enough equipment and fiber channel connections to ensure that all critical systems will have failover capabilities. (See article entitled "UMB Acquires Needed Computer Room Space" elsewhere in this issue.)  This is a priority for CITS.

A campus administrator once said, “Without the Internet we are out of business!”  CITS has attempted to mitigate this risk by installing a duplicate network core at the point on campus where we connect to both the commercial Internet and Internet 2.  This addresses hardware failure.  Facilities and CITS have recently resolved to build a second, remote core in the Lexington Building.  When this is completed, the campus will have a solution that guards against physical destruction of our primary site and follows a totally different path to connect us to the Internet and Internet 2.  If anything happened to compromise either site the network would fail over to the other.  Once again this path avoids the creation of a situation from which, in the past, the campus might have had to struggle to recover.