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Gulf Coast town disaster proofs with backup data center

Reeling from Hurricane Emily, the city of Brownsville, Texas, called on IBM to design a backup data center and a city-wide WiMax network.

Backup Data Center: When Category 5 Hurricane Emily whipped from the Atlantic into the city of Brownsville, Texas, in 2005, the city's mayor, police and residents lost power and Internet access, cutting them off from weather reports and news for up to 18 hours, said Gail Bruciak, MIS director for Brownsville.

"The hurricane caused equipment failures and power outages, and we had no back up system in place," Bruciak said.

With the threat of hurricanes looming, Brownsville hired IBM last year to modernize its IT infrastructure, providing the city of about 140,000 residents. with a backup data center, wireless Internet infrastructure and an updated network.

IBM is assisting in replacing a 20-year-old computing infrastructure with more efficient IT systems. A primary and backup data center will house 35 IBM BladeCenter servers and 50 terabytes (TB) of storage on IBM System Storage DS4000 systems. There will be 25 blade servers located in the city's primary data center location and 10 blades in a backup data center located in a hardened concrete room built to withstand hurricane force winds, located 10 miles west of the primary data center and further from the Gulf of Mexico.

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The backup data center will be powered by either natural gas or propane, which will determine how many days the data center will remain powered before the power comes back on, said Lon Levitan, manager of IBM public relations.

The city's vital records and financial information is being replicated and sent to the backup data center in real time via wireless and wired Internet. Other less crucial data will be batched through to the backup systems each day, said Sean Guy, IBM client representative for Brownsville.

WiMax, not WiFi

Part of the $6 million agreement includes IBM consulting and implementation of a citywide security-enhanced wireless network.

WiMax, said to be "WiFi on steroids," enables broadband-like speeds without the cabling, reports Intel Corp., which is pushing WiMax and plans to integrate it and WiFi into its notebook platforms based on Intel Centrino Mobile Technologies.

WiMax, or World Interoperability for Microwave Access, works redundantly with WiFi, and reaches beyond where WiFi signals stops. The technology is also more secure and reliable than WiFi and can be used for applications, such as VoIP, according to Intel information.

WiMax works in the way that cell phones work. WiMax Base Towers – built to withstand hurricane forces in Brownsville -- beam a signal to a WiMax receiver, which sends a signal to a compatible laptop.

Wireless networking is cheaper than laying wire, and in cities like Brownsville where above-ground utility poles and lines can easily be taken down by hurricane winds, wireless is the safest way to network, Guy said.

"When we looked at this project, we chose Wi-Max because it meant only having to place three towers over 100 square miles, rather than thousands of access points with Wi-Fi," Guy said.

The model developed by IBM is projected to save the city more than $1.4 million over the potential 10-year service period compared to other commercial wireless mobility offerings, IBM reported.

Also, IBM will help the city form a nonprofit organization for providing wireless Internet access aimed at improving technology availability and increasing the technology skills of Brownsville citizens, particularly the city's youth.

The city will see improvements ranging from local police getting wireless access to criminal databases to citizens being able to more quickly apply for building permits and inspections online, said Charlie Cabler, Brownsville city manager.

Additionally, Brownsville will create a virtual applications environment allowing the city's IT department to easily deploy software to hundreds of PC workstations from a centralized network.

IBM has a business unit devoted to providing these broad application upgrades for its public sector clients. For example, IBM has a service product that it offers and customizes for local governments, such as Brownsville, called "IBM Mobility and Wireless Services – digital communities."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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