For most organisations, disaster recovery planning is little more than an abstract intellectual exercise – one that they rarely need to put into practice, even in a small way.
But for enterprise mobility company BlackBay, which had been founded in Christchurch, New Zealand, it had to put its disaster recovery plans into action, not once, but twice in less than a year.
In the process, it learnt how to make itself more resilient and, indeed, how to better practise some of the "enterprise mobility" that it provides to many other companies.
The first earthquake in September 2010 was an abrupt wake-up call. While a strong 7.5 on the Richter scale, its epicentre was miles from Christchurch and caused relatively little damage – but it did critically weaken some buildings.
"It was in the middle of the night. There was a power outage for about two hours. All of our customer data is on customers' premises or else it's on-demand at a location in either the US or the UK. So there was no customer impact," says Nigel Doust, CEO of BlackBay.
"That encouraged us to re-visit our policy," adds Doust. "We learnt a lot of lessons from that first earthquake and enhanced our disaster recovery plans dramatically."
It was the second earthquake that provided the sterner test, just months later in February 2011, which killed 185 people and caused widespread damage to the city of Christchurch. "I was there when it happened – it was at lunchtime. It was 6.3 on the Richter scale, but it was closer to the surface and close to Christchurch, where we are based," says Doust.
The first impulse, he says, was to evacuate the building and to conduct a roll-call of staff, using little more than pen and paper.
Operationally, the company remained up and running due to the fact that the Christchurch datacentre in which its main corporate and customer data is stored is also used by the local council. It therefore had priority for power and network resources and enabled BlackBay to stay operating with no effect on its customers.
However, the impact of the earthquake caused a major rethink in the company's infrastructure and, indeed, the way it is run in order to improve the firm's resilience.
"We were taking tape backups out of the datacentre in Christchurch. Since then, we've started streaming data out of the country – we now stream terabytes of data to Australia, where we have a recovery capability as well," says Doust.
A datacentre was also established in the US, partly due to the company's expansion into that market, but also to take advantage of America's backbone internet bandwidth and location, which enables customers across Asia/Pacific and Europe to be well-supported.
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