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Loper Rebuilds Hancock Bank's IT Infrastructure After Hurricane Katrina

Shane Loper shows his mettle in bringing Hancock Bank back from the brink after Hurricane Katrina and helping rebuild lives.

Many bank CIOs might be anxious about performing a core systems replacement. For Shane Loper, COO and CIO, corporate human resources director and SVP with Gulfport, Miss.-based Hancock Bank ($6 billion in assets), however, a core systems replacement might seem like a walk in the park after essentially having rebuilt the entire IT infrastructure for Hancock three years ago.

In August 2005 the National Weather Service issued warnings to residents of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi about a dangerous storm that would bring catastrophic flooding to the region. That storm was a Category 5 hurricane named Katrina. As the history books will reflect, Katrina would pack a punch that echoed well beyond anything Loper and other area residents could ever imagine.

"The company was totally destroyed when you talk about physical facilities and technology," recalls Loper of Hancock Bank's headquarters and its branches after the storm. While the bank's 15-story building in Gulfport that housed its entire back-office support and operations systems survived, windows were blown out and a wall of the data center collapsed. According to Loper, the wind and water damage was devastating. Yet the bank knew it needed to be up and running to help residents begin to regain a sense of normalcy.

Loper and other bank staff were forced to evacuate to Tallahassee, Fla., before the storm hit, and Hancock was able to set up a temporary command center there to see the bank through the recovery. "We organized in one of our main branches in downtown Tallahassee," Loper relates. "We ran the overall recovery from there."

D. Shane Loper, Hancock BankThe bank's data, meanwhile, was safely housed in Chicago at Hancock's SunGard backup facility. "We were able to restart our core technology systems, ATM processing and card processing within 48 hours," Loper reports. "Then we worked on bringing up the servers and branch connectivity."

Overall, the bank spent $65 million to rebuild the tower in Gulfport that originally housed its data center and to rehabilitate some of the surrounding area. In addition, Hancock constructed the Hancock Technology Center, a new $16 million technology center situated 10 miles inland -- and 50 feet above sea level. "This is a Tier 3 center that can withstand an F-3 tornado and 200 mile-per-hour winds," Loper explains. "There are twin generators that can run for a month and 5,000 square feet of raised floor space."

According to Loper, after reviewing its disaster response to Katrina, the bank set new standards for recovering IT operations in the event of a similar disaster -- four-hour recovery time for customer-facing systems and 24 hours on all core systems. "Virtualization was the only way to do this," he says.

The bank now runs an IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) z Series processor mainframe for all its core banking software, Loper explains. It also uses Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware's ESX hypervisor running on an IBM blade center to enable a virtual environment. Vizioncore's (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) vReplicator software ensures that all of the bank's virtual machines are replicated in the backup facility. The new infrastructure "has taken daylong tape restores down to 45 minutes of recoverability," Loper notes.

Between the physical improvements to the data center and the replication of Hancock Bank's IT and banking systems, Loper is confident the financial institution can weather most of what Mother Nature throws at it in the coming years. "We think we're in good shape for the future with regard to recoverability from another event," he comments. (At press time, the bank had withstood Hurricane Gustav quite soundly.)

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