Business Continuity Tool Protects Critical Applications

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Seattle security

A business continuity solution gives Seattle Goodwill an enterprise-wide, business-centric view of its critical applications and IT services.

By Ray Osburn

Seattle Goodwill, which was established in 1923, currently operates 23 locations throughout five counties in northwestern Washington state. Of those locations, 22 are retail sites.

Proceeds from the retail sites support our organization’s job training and education programs that help disadvantaged people achieve economic independence. The typical retail location is about 20,000 square feet, and operates five cash registers and several bar-coding devices. Overall, we have 850 computers dispersed throughout our locations.

In late 2006, Seattle experienced severe rainstorms that were uncharacteristic even for this rainy region. Twelve rivers hit all-time highs in water levels.

Our Seattle headquarters abuts a hillside, and in December when a storm drain got plugged up, rainwater flooded 160,000 square feet of the building and spread throughout two floors. The water flooded the server room with 2 inches of water, and we had to take 20 of our servers offline to protect them. The flood took the servers down for two days, and the recovery cost the organization $1.5 million, which amounted to more than 2 percent of our $65 million annual revenue.

Following this disaster, we began looking for a disaster recovery and business continuity solution to prevent this kind of event from happening again. We purchased the cheapest option available, but the deployment didn’t go as smoothly as expected.
We used this solution to protect our Microsoft Exchange and SQL servers. For our file servers, the company promised to have a solution available during the next quarter. Unfortunately, it didn’t come through with the promised file server protection.

With 600GB of file server data and other applications that run our business, it was critical for us to have these applications fully protected. Without that protection, we knew we had a big gap in our business continuity processes—and potentially in our budget.

At Goodwill, we have always believed in the belt-and-suspenders approach, and we tend to be cautious and overprotective when it comes to guarding against any unplanned downtime. We needed a business continuity plan that would keep our office team connected to the business-critical applications that let them monitor sales transactions, manage inventory, and meet our payroll and accounts payable obligations. We also needed to keep the cash registers online so our retail staff could keep working even if our central site or WAN went down.

Based on these criteria, we purchased a Neverfail solution to protect our business applications by allowing us to aggregate multiple servers into a business application, and then monitor and manage availability for the application as a single unit.
In the past, we had taken a server-based approach to data protection and disaster recovery, adding significant complexity to the designs. This silo-based methodology was insufficient for protecting our critical business systems, including Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics GP and our Microsoft Dynamics RMS point-of-sale system.

The Neverfail Continuous Availability Director gives us an enterprisewide, business-centric view of our critical applications and IT services. It has a flexible approach, which allows logical grouping of application, database, messaging and other servers together. This grouping gives us a way to visualize interdependencies across servers and provides a central console at which we can view events, alerts and the overall health of each business application.

We are currently replicating our data to a secondary site in the Cascade Mountains, about 45 miles away. Twelve Neverfail servers house our mission-critical applications.

Following the 2006 flood, we divided our headquarters staff into two separate locations to try to prevent another disaster from shutting down the organization. Because of our co-located staff, we are considering virtualizing our infrastructure in the near future. If virtualization is the right next step for us, I am confident that all our business applications will be fully protected.

Ray Osburn is the IT director of Seattle Goodwill.

This article was originally published on 2012-08-15
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