March 27, 2008

LLIKE ALL OTHER federally regulated U.S. banks, Equitable Bank is required to run disaster recovery drills. But when one of those drills in 2003 showed that it took too long for the community bank to restore its Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Exchange Server, Equitable's IT head knew he needed to make a change.

"We spent an entire business week trying to restore Exchange from tape to dissimilar hardware," recalls Michael Block, IT officer for the bank. "We succeeded, but the time needed to recover was totally unacceptable," he adds.

Block began searching for a solution in late 2003 that would provide high availability of the bank's Exchange Server and SQL database -- which are housed at Equitable's Wauwatosa, Wis., headquarters -- over a wide area network (WAN) to 12 separate locations. As a major residential mortgage lender, the bank recognized that an inability for its remote locations to access the database posed a major risk to its lending operations, he explains.

In Search of the Perfect Clone

Equitable considered a number of vendors, including Computer Associates (Islandia, N.Y.), EMC (Hopkinton, Mass.), Veritas (now part of Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec) and Double-Take Software (Southborough, Mass.). "All had compatibility but failed in some requirement -- such as cost, hardware or set-up [time]," Block says. "Some were too complex. We didn't want complexity."

While "cruising the Internet" searching for the term "high availability," Block says, he came across Austin, Texas-based Neverfail's continous availability solution. According to Block, the software "clones" a firm's primary server and critical applications to a secondary server and automatically switches to the backup machine if it detects a failure, avoiding downtime. "I thought they were perfect," he says.

Neverfail includes what the company refers to as two "unique components" as part of its solution: the "heartbeat," which is technology that enables the replication of data from the active to the passive server -- over a LAN or WAN; and the "scope," which uses automated tools to gather and analyze information about key application components, services and performance attributes.

During a mid-2005 demo, Equitable installed the Neverfail software on just one computer in its disaster recovery site, which is located 15 miles from its main data center. Almost immediately after switching from the production server to the backup PC, Exchange was back up and running, Block reports.

"Within minutes we were sending and receiving e-mails on that computer. That was the acid test that resulted in our selection of Neverfail," he says, adding, "The ability [for Neverfail] to run the server on a desktop PC knocked my socks off."

Quick Install, Quick Results

The bank implemented the full Neverfail solution in June 2005, a process that took just four hours, Block says, noting that no formal training was required for the staff. This time, however, Equitable purchased a Microsoft Windows server to house the solution in its disaster recovery site.

"We are very pleased with the performance of the product," Blocks adds, pointing out that Neverfail doesn't require applications to be restarted following a disruption. In fact, when the bank recently was forced to switch to the backup server, he says, end users couldn't even tell the difference.

BUSINESS CONTINUITY

Institution: Equitable Bank (Wauwatosa, Wis.).

Assets: $600 million.

Business Challenge: Ensure continuous application availability and improve disaster recovery performance.

Solution: Neverfail's (Austin, Texas) continuous availability software.