One in every five of the UK’s largest companies remains impervious to the need for tried-and-tested contingency planning. According to a recent survey carried out by the insurance broking house Sedgwick, 20% of Britain’s UKP700m-a-year-plus companies are completely unprepared for a major crisis. The conclusion reached by Sedgwick is that management in the UK is […]
One in every five of the UK’s largest companies remains impervious to the need for tried-and-tested contingency planning. According to a recent survey carried out by the insurance broking house Sedgwick, 20% of Britain’s UKP700m-a-year-plus companies are completely unprepared for a major crisis. The conclusion reached by Sedgwick is that management in the UK is simply not serious about disaster recovery. Across the North Sea in Holland, however, the fruits of concerted advertising and corporate consciousness-raising campaigns are starting to pay off. The Computer Uitwijk Centrum or CUC, billed as Europe’s largest disaster recovery site, now has 170 customers on its books. Last year, it received 15 pre-announcement calls, of which seven proved to be full-blown disasters. Four were the result of hardware failures on IBM mainframes, requiring an average of two and-a-half weeks’ work to rectify. And in 1987, a multi-national client was forced to make use of the CUC’s facilities on four separate occasions. The centre is based in Lelystad, a new town built on reclaimed land, situated one hour’s drive from Amsterdam. It was set up in 1981 by an NMB BankKLM-led consortium, and opened its doors to the outside world in 1983. Last July, in a bid to transform the centre into a fully commercial operation, its major shareholders sold a controlling stake to Inspectorate International AG leasing arm Meridian International. In the words of its financial manager Joop van den Pangaart, the CUC is a bunker inside a bunker, dedicated to disaster recovery. Internally, a 24-hour security system checks for faults in the cooling and power system, fire hazards, and intruders; external protection extends to reinforced walls and a moat. Its pledge to its customers is, explains van den Pangaart, is 99%, round-the-clock hardware availability. In return, it stipulates stringent pre-contract client evaluation, a number of compulsory testing days, an annual risk audit, and strict observance of a two-month time limit in the hot site. It also offers a cold site, or empty shell, where customers can stay for a period of 18 months, with a final two weeks at the hot site for thrown in for good measure. In hardware terms, the CUC currently houses one IBM 3090-180E mainframe, a 3480Q, one 3745 communications controller – soon to be expanded to three, two System/36s, two 38s, and a Hewlett-Packard HP3000 Model 70, shortly to be replaced by a Model 950. By May, van den Pangaart also hopes to install two AS/400s, and a six MIPS DEC-VAX machine in a refurbished Mid-Range Unit. UK Disaster recovery acquisitions Over a period of time, however, van den Pangaart expects hardware-based solutions to be superseded by data communications. The CUC already offers satellite, modem, dial-up, and leased lines, and expects the Dutch PTT to liberalise current legislation outlawing private managed networks within a matter of years. Eventually, van den Pangaart believes the centre will provide a communications-based back-up network for the whole of Europe, and describes the ultimate solution as image-copying to fixed disks in a dark room. In the UK, where Meridian’s disaster recovery activity is currently confined to consultancy and risk assessment, the company’s plans remain shrouded in mystery. Development chief Michael Stevenson-Smith concedes that a CUC will never be built in the UK, but argues that access to customers throughout Europe could be provided via local input output centres, offering cross-border mainframe-to-CUC communication links. He also indicated that the UK arm will make a series of acquisitions in the disaster recovery field, and has plans to establish a number of small system hot sites. True to form (CI No 1,151) he quashed the notion of IBM as a competitor, by claiming that the term implied a rival product offering. The key to disaster recovery, in his eyes, appears to be scrupulous risk assessment and contingency planning. Judging by the Sedgwick survey, however, his first task would seem to be penetrating the barrier of complacency that seems t
o plague the UK’s top managers.