Disaster recovery back in spotlight
- By Brian Robinson
- Apr 17, 2002
New Mexico's Information Systems Division (ISD) put together its first disaster
recovery plan in the mid-1980s but, like information technology managers
in others states, New Mexico officials found themselves focusing on other
issues in the 1990s. By the end of the decade, they knew they had a lot
of work to do.
Now, after just more than a year of a focused effort to pull together
a new plan, the state is entering the final stages of a process that will
enable it to guarantee its client agencies that their systems and support
functions will be recoverable within 48 hours after any disaster.
"Because of things such as lack of resources and [the Year 2000 problem],
in the late 1990s we had begun neglecting the plan," said Tim Kisser, deputy
director of ISD (www.state.nm.us/gsd/isd).
"We were not monitoring it as aggressively as we should have been."
When the division turned its focus back to disaster recovery, it found
that some things had changed. Originally, ISD had managed much of the state
agencies' IT needs centrally through its mainframe-based data center. Conceptually,
the recovery plan looked the same, but many of the relationships between
ISD and its client agencies had changed.
A big difference was that agencies had become self-sufficient for services
they had relied on ISD to provide. What had previously been centralized,
host-based e-mail, for example, now occurs in client/server environments
and is the responsibility of the agencies themselves.
The agencies still look to ISD for "large-scale stuff" such as online
processing capability for major development programs. But the division is
now more of a service provider for agencies, providing help on an as-needed
ISD is using a "building block" approach to putting its plan together,
making sure network connections are established and tested, for example,
before dealing with different operating environments.
This approach is something that should be common in most recovery planning,
said Bill Langendoerfer, the state's disaster recovery coordinator, but
is particularly appropriate to ISD's political arrangement.
"We have areas of unique specializations," he said. "The communications
folks are one, another is technical support for software, and so on. This
kind of organization allows us to test the recovery of various platforms
in one area independent of those in another, so we can see which approach
gives us the most productivity in the environment we are in."
The step-by-step approach also has a built-in error check. Each part
of the recovery plan is a key component of those that follow, so testing
one part highlights any errors and omissions that might have been made in
previous parts. Those can then be fixed before any part of the plan is called
"Once we are at the end of that process, we can be pretty confident
that we have a good plan," Langendoerfer said.
One potential sticking point has been getting the cooperation of client
agencies. Each has its own disaster plan, but they are all intimately involved
in what ISD needs to do, either because they are dependent on the division
for a particular service or have independent applications that use ISD resources.
ISD recovers the platforms the agencies depend on, while the agencies recover
All of the affected agencies have expressed interest in the ISD recovery
plan, Kisser said, although that didn't necessarily pre-ordain their enthusiasm.
"From my perspective, I knew that culture would be an issue," Kisser
said. "So we went ahead and built the infrastructure that would be necessary
for disaster recovery and when we wanted to test it for a particular application,
we put feelers out to the agencies and asked which of them were ready to
Agencies are becoming more aware of the need for disaster recovery,
Langendoerfer said, due in part to an increased focus on security brought
about by Sept. 11 and by federal mandates, such as the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act.
Ultimately, the state will end up with a plan that encompasses the needs
of all of the government's agencies, Kisser said, including ISD. Although
the division is unlikely to be the governing authority for that, Kisser
does believe that the plan ISD is putting together likely will be the basis
for this statewide plan.
And that would be a sweet recognition of the effort that his organization
has put out. Disaster recovery is in many ways an undervalued facility since
"it's something no one really wants to do because there always seems something
better to be doing," Kisser said.
In this newly security-conscious world, however, perhaps it's what people
are increasingly recognizing as something they need to do.
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.