By Lynn Haber  |  Posted 09-17-2007 Print Email




There's no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to disaster recovery. Evolving the model is what's important.

Sun Life Financial, a financial services company in Wellesley Hills, Mass., spent the past two years identifying and testing disaster recovery/business continuity technology. Beginning next year, the company will provide its business units with crisis management and recovery awareness training.

Here's a scenario Sun Life asks its managers and employees to contemplate: Imagine a chemical spill at an industrial park in Waterford, Ireland, near a Sun Life office that handles help desk calls and backoffice work, requiring the 400 Sun Life personnel there to evacuate. Where to? To a similarly equipped co-location facility in Dublin, about a two-hour drive north. The desktop PCs here have identical images to those in Waterford, and the PCs are networked to servers in Boston and Toronto, where the displaced workers can access the applications and data they need.

While Sun Life's back-office functions have a recovery window of more than four hours, the help desk has zero tolerance for downtime. So as personnel are relocated, calls are rerouted to another one of the company's global sites in, say, Bermuda, Canada, India, or the U.S., until employees at the Dublin co-location facility are up and running.

Sun Life's global offices house up to 3,000 employees.

"We recently ran this simulation with 100 people, including a team leader and key people in the business units, to get them to understand who's in charge, how transportation is handled, what it's like to physically move to a recovery location, sit at the desk and communicate back to another location carrying on with the day-to-day work," says Lawrence Robert, Sun Life director of business continuity. The simulation ran smoothly, he adds.

Sun Life uses a distributed site strategy for disaster recovery/business continuity that lets the company move mission-critical applications and worker skills to other locations. "It's easy to move the data 1,000 miles away, but it's more of a challenge to get the staff with the required skill sets to the recovery location," Robert says.

Sun Life is developing its outreach strategy with the business units for hiring and training to include cross-training for multiple jobs even if it lengthens the training period. "Our strategy is to distribute the data and reduce the risk," Robert says.

The financial services firm tries not to keep data exclusively where employees work, avoiding a single point of failure. Data at Sun Life's Bermuda office, for example, resides on servers in its Toronto and Wellesley offices. Data the business units deem critical, such as customer-facing applications, transaction processing and trades, is signed off on by senior executives and replicated in real time at off-site locations.

A similar distributed site strategy applies to the company's call center, where calls come in pertaining to policies, annuities or the status of payments, for example.

As a safety measure, Sun Life no longer handles all its call center work at a single Alberta, Canada, facility; 40 percent of calls are dispersed to small offices around the globe. "Now," Robert says, "resiliency is built in to the call center production environment as opposed to having to recover the call center."

Ask your CEO:

Is disaster recovery/business continuity evolving along with the needs of the organization?

Ask your business unit leaders:

Have you identified team leadership for recovery?


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