Hurricanes Teach Lessons About Data Backup

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Tape backups failed a number of credit unions as they struggled to recover during the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes, triggering many to consider the alternatives.

Some credit unions "were not adequately prepared" because backup tapes weren't tested and were unreadable, said Doug Barton, manager of Centurion Disaster Recovery, Symitar's business continuity partner.

Anywhere from 40% to 60% of all tape is unrecoverable, according to various surveys in the past year-yet manual tape backup is still the most widely deployed method in North America.

"Tape is not the best way to go," said Glenda Rushe, chief financial officer at St. Tammany Federal Credit Union. "When we used tape, we never knew if the data was retrievable. We never tested or verified that the data was even ON the tapes. We didn't know how to. Plus, our tapes were stored on-site, and the employee who did the deposits had the most recent copy.

"Thank God we didn't have a situation where we needed to use the tapes," she added. "Our membership would have walked out the door."

Even though St. Tammany FCU didn't use tape, the $15-million CU did have a situation where it needed backup: Its main branch was shut down for two weeks by Hurricane Katrina, Rushe said.

Fortunately, she said, the credit union had switched last year from manual tape backups to automatic data vaulting, an online backup and recovery solution provided by Marlborough, Mass.-based LiveVault Corp. through Centurion.

Vaulted data is automatically encrypted and transmitted every 15 minutes to backup disc- both out-of-state and onsite-and can be updated or retrieved from the Net, anywhere and anytime, said Rushe. In addition, recovery is 100% guaranteed, according to LiveVault.

"We've been on LiveVault for about a year, so we didn't have to deal with the tape issue after Katrina," Rushe continued. "I'm quite sure it would have been a big mess if we had had to send and retrieve tapes."

CUs running Symitar's core system and using vaulted backups recovered more easily and more quickly from Katrina than those CUs relying on tapes, added Barton.

"With data vaulting, we were 100% from Jump Street," said Rushe. "We declared the disaster and the next day we were able to use our data backup to handle all of our daily processes, including share draft, ATM and ACH transactions, from our remote location in a roach motel in Brookhaven, Miss..

"The recovery was such a breeze that there was just no stress factor," she continued.

In contrast, tape backups are not only unreliable, they are also a lot of trouble, Rushe said. Tape backup placed daily physical and technical demands on the staff. "There was too much responsibility placed on our six employees."

Though St. Tammany FCU was able to revive its core system data instantly after Katrina, Rushe said Internet banking recovery was slower.

"We didn't have our Internet banking data backed up, but now we know it's necessary," she explained.

As many CUs learned, Internet banking remained high and dry after the Gulf Coast disasters, providing transaction capabilities and emergency bulletins for displaced members. After Katrina, St. Tammany FCU members could only check balances or conduct transactions by making a phone call to Rushe, and then only if they knew her phone number at her remote location in Mississippi.

For similar reasons, St. Tammany FCU is now also joining a shared branching network, Rushe said.

CUJ Resources

For info on this story:

* St. Tammany FCU at

* LiveVault at

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