The IT folks at a hospital in Brooklyn, NY., recently synchronized databases between two of its sites using rooftop microwave transmitters, a move it says circumvented both budget and bandwidth concerns at the outset of its disaster recovery project.
When management at Maimonides Medical Center wanted a link to its cancer research center about a mile away, the IT group was tasked with finding a way to sync databases filled with everything from employee files and outpatient records to clinical data and cardiologic images and video. But costs and bandwidth comparisons made them reluctant to go underground.
"If they [the sites] were on the same block, we'd lay fiber," said Gabriel Sandu, manager of technical services for Maimonides. "But even with T1 or T3 you can't do a synchronous mirror -- it's too slow. We're talking about SAN [Storage Area Network] traffic with 200 volumes on one side and 200 on the other. You can't squeeze it even with 45 megabit connection."
Enter Dragonwave Inc., an Ottawa-based specialist in high-capacity broadband transmitters and networking systems. Maimonides now has a 100 megabit connection that enables synchronous updates to both databases and automatic recovery in the event of many types of disasters.
It cost the hospital $18,000 for the connection, which is only good as long as there is a line of sight between the buildings.
Add about $50,000 for two Cisco blade servers equipped with director switches -- one on each end -- and the project's total cost is about $70,000. Practically all labor was in-house, Sandu said.
Compare that to trenching fiber.
"In 18 months, we'll cover whatever we'd have paid Verizon," Sandu said. "Price-wise it's pretty good. We own the building, but even if we were renting, it's just a matter of getting the antenna up there and plugging it into the switch."
Aside from relatively short maximum distances (five-10 miles) in creating a data bridge, another potential concern when beaming sensitive information is interception. But the equipment runs on a very high frequency that transmits within a tight signal channel two degrees wide. Dragonwave also uses proprietary algorithms that can only be read by the preassigned "sister" of that particular radio, both of which authenticate each other every half second, the company claims.
Weather can occasionally be a problem with microwave systems. "On the high frequency, rain is a concern, but because these distances are so short, they should never see any outage due to rain," said Paul Lefebvre, director of sales for Dragonwave's central northeast region. "Almost to the point where it would take an act of God, and if it's raining that hard, there probably are other things you should be worrying about."
Disaster recovery has been eating more of the IT budget's pie chart lately. Some companies can allocate upward to a quarter of tech-earmarked funds on recovery plans -- all in the name of avoiding bigger losses.
Having an off-site, synchronous database means it's much harder to lose critical data in the event of a localized catastrophe, such as a fire. Some businesses even move their backups over state lines to avoid regionally affecting conditions, but it depends on the shop. The nature of your business, along with financial resources and geography are obvious factors when considering the best plan.
With a hot summer forecasted, some worry about air conditioner-induced brownouts that especially plague high-density populations like New York City. In such an event, having your backup on the same grid seems like a pitfall, but in an instance for Maimonides, the plan is to have its diesel-fueled generator keep things chugging along.
"We're working now on a continuous data protector in a third mirror at our third site, with timestamps so you can rollback," Sandu said. "But it's about what you have to work with. If there's a major regional attack, then we lose the data, we lose everything."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer