Schools plan for disaster

Universities look to back up online services

by Sandra Perez
Hatchet Reporter

In the event of a terrorist attack or major national disaster, GW officials have long recognized the need to protect University network and computing systems. But in the disastrous wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, colleges around the country are evaluating the safety of their own technology services.

While most institutions are prepared for local disasters such as fires and floods, many schools haven't taken the necessary steps to get their information technology systems up and running quickly in the face of widespread geographic disasters, said Mike Makos, vice president for outsourcing and application hosting at SunGard SCT, a company that provides backup computing for colleges and businesses. In the aftermath of last month's hurricanes, Makos said 284 Gulf Coast-area businesses and schools contracted with SunGard appealed to the company for technology help.

"When tech is out of operation, the institution is very much out of business," Makos said. "Students take for granted access to information and courses anytime day or night."

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, GW administrators recognized the need to revamp the University's information technology recovery plans to ensure the availability of its systems in the face of disaster. In order to make the University's information technology more resilient, Information Systems and Services oversaw the construction of a new data center on GW's Ashburn, Va., campus as a mirrored backup to the primary center in Foggy Bottom.

"Very few schools have dual centers; particularly dual production centers 30 or more miles apart," said Alexa Kim, executive director of Information Systems and Services Technology Services. "Some have smaller recovery centers or agreements with commercial providers or other universities for space in case of a disaster."

In August, CIO Magazine named GW's ISS one of its 2005 Bold 100 award recipients for the University's upgrades in information technology. Following GW's initiative, the University of Michigan is building its own backup computing center about 10 miles from campus.

"We are increasingly trying to distribute our systems into different data centers so that everything isn't located in one place - different services require different kinds of emergency responses," said Kitty Bridges, University of Michigan's associate vice president of technology services.

Michigan, which has a contract with SunGard SCT to provide backup services, is also looking to get backup services from other schools, such as the University of Washington, in order to exchange servers in case one goes down.

"I would say that we have planned for the kind of emergencies that we have seen up until now such as a fire in a building, or a power outage, but many of us have not planned for a total catastrophe," Bridges said. "Most universities have done something and are now looking for something new."

The most important step in information technology recovery is to restore an institution's ".edu" domain Web address, Makos said. Schools can then begin to reload their most critical applications, such as payroll systems and student information sites. At GW, Kim said the restoration of communication systems such as GWeb, myGW and Colonial Mail take priority.

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