May 16, 2002

Storage area networks, or SANs, can provide banks with the tools to ensure that no data disappears during or after an emergency. Indeed, by using "data mirroring," employers of SAN technology can replicate their entire informational footprint in separate locations, so that one location can instantly and automatically step up in the event of a disaster at another location.

Unfortunately, difficult market conditions have led some organizations to economize on their protection. Neil Druker, lead general partner of Pangaea L.P., a Boston, Mass.-based hedge fund, observes that the storage marketplace, which had initially looked to be red-hot in the wake of September 11, has yet to achieve its potential. "There was an initial flush of excitement," said Druker at a venture capital conference in Boston. "Quote activities were high, but deals didn't follow."

Instead of selecting SANs, which Druker dubs the "filet mignon' of storage, many organizations have chosen the "hot dog"--Network-Attached Storage, or NAS, an "inferior good" that doesn't quite offer the same scalability or business continuity protection as do SANs.

However, financial institutions seem far less likely to skimp on their business continuity planning. For example, Citizens Financial Group, a Providence, R.I.-based, $53 billion subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland, has secured its informational assets against disaster using business continuity solutions from EMC, a storage technology provider based in Hopkinton, Mass.

To start, the Citizens solution involves "data mirroring" across three bank facilities. In the event of a disaster striking one facility, two exact replicas of the bank's information can instantly take over.

The product, EMC's Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF), was originally developed in response to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The software intelligence for replicating data resides on the storage device itself, instead of on a specific server, network or operating system. That means EMC's products work across a heterogeneous computing environment.

EMC solutions also help protect against data disasters that are unconnected to physical damage, such as accidental corruption of a database. Using DataFacility and TimeFinder software from EMC, banks can "roll back" to a snapshot of their data at a specific point in time. "Most customers deploy them in a way where they have a 'known good state' on disk, so it's easy to recover to it very rapidly," said Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis for EMC. "Several financial institutions that I've worked with have as many as three different rotating sets."

That provides protection beyond floods and fires. "It's usually some form of data corruption that was inadvertently caused or from a bug in software somewhere higher up in the chain," said Steinhardt. "Not only would they be able to recover, but we can synchronize right up to the state of the production data including the changes that have occurred."