TORONTO — Power outages and surges are the leading cause of computer downtime of more than 12 hours, according to a study from Contingency Planning Research. They account for one-third of all outages, while storm damage amounts for 20 per cent and floods are responsible for 16 per cent. Fires and

bombs account for nine per cent.

“”We have all these events looming in our consciousness these days — terrorism, war, ice storms, snow storms, floods, disk drive thefts and disk failures,”” said Michael Smith, principal with Ernst & Young, who spoke in Toronto recently as part of a presentation sponsored by Fusepoint Managed Services.

Smith said awareness around disaster recovery and business continuance has heightened as the need to rely on computer systems has increased and more people have access to critical systems. But few organizations are doing anything about it, he said.

Moreover, Gartner predicts two out of five enterprises that experience a disaster will go out of business within five years of the event, so companies might want to take notice.

“”That’s a strong statement, but if you look at the first World Trade Center disaster in the early 90s, the companies that weren’t prepared were significantly weakened by that event,”” said Robert Offley, president and CEO of Fusepoint Managed Services.

No one has to remind Stephen Tucker of the importance of a sound disaster recovery plan. Though he did not attend the event, the director of IT for the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto watched his hospital’s systems fail during the Christmas holidays of 2001.

“”It was a major disaster; we had zinc whisker contamination,”” he said. “”All of our back-up tapes were corrupt so we couldn’t retrieve any data and the situation made our whole environment unstable.””

Zinc whisker contamination occurs when galvanized metal floor tiles containing zinc are laid in the server room. Over time, the zinc “”grows”” outside of the metal tile, creating tiny, invisible whiskers, Tucker said. If these whiskers are disturbed and become airborne, they could get lodged inside a server’s circuitry, effectively shutting it down.

“”We learned a lot that day,”” Tucker said with a nervous laugh. “”We called our data recovery house and they said, ‘Sure, come on over and bring $42,000 with you.’ We thought we had a good plan in place. But we had stopped regular testing and we paid the price.”” The price was about $100,000.

“”It took us about four days to get the critical data back up to our departments,”” he said. “”We’re still working on (restoring) some of the less critical data.””

Last year, an Ernst & Young survey of 80 CIOs and CEOs indicated computer system failure is a top concern for leading companies and six out of 10 said a system failure would pose a significant risk, yet the majority believe the likelihood of a catastrophic IT failure is low.

“”The impact is high, but the probability is low,”” Smith said.

Ken Wong, as

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