Corporations Rush to Secure Data; Finding Techies Becomes Key Step
By Dennis K. Berman and Calmetta Coleman Staff Reporters of The Wall Street Journal While still trying to tally the human toll of the terrorist attack on Manhattan, area businesses are now turning to another kind of rescue effort: saving the corporate and financial data that is the lifeblood of the now-stalled information economy.
Much of that data is retrievable, particularly among the largest and most sophisticated corporations, according to executives who head some of the nation's largest data-backup firms. But they remained cautious about a quick or total recovery.
The hardest part, they said, is the human element: coordinating scattered programmers, system administrators and executives who keep companies and their computer networks running.
"The vast majority of our clients have multiple copies of data on-site and off-site," said Jim Simmons, chief executive of SunGard Business Continuity and Internet Services, a unit of SunGard Data Systems Inc. in Wayne, Pa. Mr. Simmons said the company had 68 customers affected by Tuesday's attack, and 14 of those customers have declared companywide disasters and enacted their disaster-recovery plans.
EMC Corp., one of the nation's largest providers of data backup, said it had about 25 customers with equipment in the World Trade Center complex itself, with another half dozen clients in the immediate area.
Nearly all large corporations maintain data-backup systems separate from a Manhattan location. Based around the country in places such as Iowa, Texas, and Florida, they typically "mirror" a company's databases, providing a copy of the firm's electronic movements.
But a company may not choose to back up all of its systems, choosing, for instance, to archive multiple copies of financial transactions but have a less vigorous standard for corporate e-mail or other communications systems. Executives at the data-storage firms said most clients in lower Manhattan are still in the assessment phase, trying to figure out what they had only on the premises and what and how was being backed up.
Bill Miller, chief technology officer for Storage Networks Inc. in Waltham, Mass., said he had felt secure about the recoverability of financial data used in the world's markets. "For things directly involved in the markets, my level of confidence is high," he said. He noted, however, that a disaster of this scope is not something for which his clients were ever prepared. "This is a case where you can recover some portions remotely, but you have no place to go back to work."
Recovery efforts have been hampered by the inability of workers to return to lower Manhattan, said Sanjay Kumar, chief executive of Computer Associates Inc. Some of the data used to run the nation's businesses are stored informally on employees' personal computers. "They are the least backed-up devices," said Mr. Kumar. "And most of our customers are not planning on showing up downtown for another two weeks."
All of which is making the data-recovery effort as much a human operation as a technical one. Though the financial data may be secure, the established social and business processes that make companies function have been disrupted. "The real issue is, 'Where do these people go to work?' " Mr. Kumar said. Last night, for instance, the company bussed 40 network-design specialists from Atlanta to the Computer Associates headquarters in Islandia, N.Y.
Write to Dennis K. Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org and Calmetta Coleman at email@example.com