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New Orleans law firm braces for storms with new DR plan

Post-Katrina, a New Orleans law firm has purchased new hardware, implemented HA/DR software and set up a secondary, out-of-state data center.

With the hindsight of its being trounced by hurricane Katrina -- and foresight of weather experts who predict a consecutive stormy summer season this year for the Gulf Coast -- a New Orleans law firm has since spent over $100,000 to purchase new hardware, implement high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR) software and set up a secondary, out-of-state data center.

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Instead of using tape, Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC is now using software by Neverfail Group Ltd. for Exchange, SQL and File Server, beating out XOsoft and Double-Take Software to synchronize data to the firm's new backup site 40 miles north of Houston.

The firm is mending its armor after Katrina blasted its downtown offices last August, knocking out operations for five days before employees could organize a makeshift headquarters and rebuild servers so that mail, documents and databases could be accessed, according to Janine Sylvas, IT director for the firm.

While the office on Carondelet Street sustained blown out windows and heavy wind damage, it avoided direct injuries from the massive flooding in the area. Its hardware remained there largely unharmed, but the local state of affairs -- both natural and governmental -- disabled the ability to gain access to the building. With rivers for streets and the National Guard regulating access, Stone Pigman scrambled to get back online.

"We'd already started rebuilding," Sylvas said. "But we still really wanted our accounting server. One of our partners had military training, and, well, we were able to get it."

Founded in 1929 with a history in the realms of securities, real estate, insurance, intellectual property, healthcare and employment, Sylvas estimated Stone Pigman's loss at tens of thousands of dollars in lost client income during the lapse between the storm striking and the firm gaining its footing.

"Fortunately, we were able to get the information, but this really made me sit down and say, 'you know we have to have something better in place,' " Sylvas said. "I basically took the number of attorneys [52 lawyers, about 100 employees total], estimated an hourly rate and pretty much multiplied by the amount of time we would be down. I didn't have to justify it through some sort of business impact analysis, considering. There are times I wonder whether or not I would have been able to implement something like this had we not had this hurricane. When it comes to really spending the money, no one wants to think about it. It's kind of like insurance, you feel like you're throwing your money away, but you're glad you have it when it happens … If we weren't able to get information from tape, we would not be in a very good position."

Stone Pigman chose Neverfail through the advice of its longtime consultant, Lee Hovermale, senior management consultant and senior vice president at IT consulting firm Project Leadership Associates.

Hovermale said XOsoft worked, but, for his purposes, enabled too manual a failover and had consistency problems that several of his other clients also acknowledged.

"They didn't failover according to every setting of our OS," Hovermale said. "It wasn't a true hot-standby, because we had to manually cut it over in a certain way, and it wouldn't fail over consistently. I have clients in Phoenix that use it and both said it would work, but the way it failed over wasn't always copasetic."

Hovermale said he found XOsoft and Double-Take to be an almost identical product, only XOsoft has a better interface.

"With Double-Take, their failover required a lot of scripting in its older version and sometimes that would break," Hovermale said. "Though that's since changed in a newer version that wasn't available then [last Fall]."

Consistency and custom coding were winning points for Neverfail.

" In comparison, the thing we liked with Neverfail, there were little quirks, but the quirks were less intrusive. When you're replicating 60 to 100 gigs of email, you can't have little quirks," Hovermale said, adding Stone Pigman stores about 1 terabyte of SQL, document and email data on an EMC Corp. Clariion 300 storage area network. "Plus, versus the others, was their [Neverfail's] ability to write custom apps. We had an Omega client and they were willing to write a failover module and it was very inexpensive. Something like $2,000."

Neverfail for Exchange, SQL and File Server and all related expenses totaled about $35,000. New hardware, HP (Hewlett-Packard Co.) DL360s to support Blackberry and Internet Information Services and DL380s for Exchange and SQL, as well as Dell Inc. 1800, 2800 and 6400 cost about $50,000.

Hovermale said the difference between before and after the storm, in terms of preparedness, is night and day. That sentiment Sylvas echoed, but said the human element was more difficult.

"The whole time everyone wasn't able to function on the same level. 'Do I have a home to go to?' Some found out. 'No. I've lost everything except the car and this clothing," ' Sylvas said. "Still, I think everybody thought, 'we're going back, we can't wait to go back as soon as we get the green light, we're ready.' I was ready -- but I wanted to go back under controlled circumstances."

Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, said the human element can often be forgotten by companies whose specialty is recovery.

"People are also processes to help rebuild your business," Clabby said. "Beyond DR, what is a company doing to put the people and processes back in place? Software can only take you so far."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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