Disaster-recovery systems will be tested to their utmost by Tuesdays terrorist attack on New York, experts said Wednesday. But the bigger challenge may be the loss of highly skilled employees.
The impact wont be the system, said Deborah Williams, the research director at Meridien Research of Newton, Mass. But if you lose the person who was running the system, thats a whole lot more difficult to replace.
Because of regulatory requirements as well as past problems such as the 1993 terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center, banks have built elaborate safeguards to protect their data, Ms. Williams said. The scale of the disaster is unique, but the procedures have been tested over and over, she said.
Most of the large firms have very extensive disaster-recovery facilities, said Larry Tabb, the vice president in charge of the securities and investment practice of the bank technology consultant TowerGroup in Needham, Mass.
In fact, he noted, most major banks undergo periodic technology audits that test their ability to bounce back from shutdowns. But those systems are designed to protect individual companies from power failures or storms. The systems have never been tested to this extreme a measure with so many disparate companies being affected at once, Mr. Tabb said.
Modern computer systems feature hot back-ups, so that information entered once is stored automatically in multiple locations, the experts said. As a result, they said, customer information and core processing data should be secure.
For other records, it may be another story. There are spreadsheets in laptops, there are all kinds of paperwork that will never be recovered, Mr. Tabb said. All you could see floating around lower Manhattan was paper, he said. Its going to be very difficult to recover that.
SunGard Data Systems Inc., the largest provider of business continuity services, is working with its clients now to assess the response to the crisis, said Kelly OBrien, public relations manager for the Wayne, Pa.-based company. But on the day after the attack she said the company was not yet prepared to make any announcements.
SunGard offers 800,000 square feet of hardened facilities and serves more than 5,000 clients globally, including 47 of the worlds 50 largest financial service companies, according to its Web site.
Comdisco Inc. of Rosemont, Ill., another large service provider, was in full mobilization mode, with about 35 companies operating out of its facilities in northern New Jersey, said a company spokesman, Rich Maganini. The users are mostly financial services firms, including insurance companies, that need work areas, computer facilities, and data networks, he said.
Users were also at Comdisco facilities in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, where buildings were evacuated as a precaution after the New York attacks, he said.
Despite the scope of Tuesdays disaster, Comdisco was employing only 30% to 35% of its capacity, Mr. Maganini said.
The companys business-continuity unit is under contract to be sold to Hewlett-Packard Co. as Comdisco pursues a corporate reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. But Comdiscos financial difficulties have not affected its service to customers, Mr. Maganini said: We have continued our normal business operations.