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VAR CMA is playing its part in helping the cities within the hurricane-hit state of Louisiana to implement a disaster recovery solution that would see the IT systems back up and running in a matter of hours in the event of a disaster.

The backup and recovery solution allows the city to mirror its entire technology infrastructure in a collocation center, providing security, backup and restoration capabilities in the event of a disaster.  The city of Alexandria was the first to implement the solution and the cities of Sulphur, Monroe and Bossier City are following suit with similar technology implementations. 

Blake Rachal, a systems analyst with the city of Alexandria, said that the city stores financial data of its residents when they make bill payments for water, gas and electricity. Those systems are run on an IBM AIX System p with an Oracle back-end and Banner financial software, he said.
Rachal said that for time keeping and attendance of city government employees as well as Lotus Notes e-mail, the city uses IBM System x 366 servers and an IBM BladeCenter with a VMware virtualization layer for most of the server functions. The entire infrastructure is connected to a mirrored IBM SAN (storage area network), which serves as the main data repository, he said.

The city has now mirrored the entire infrastructure at two locations, with 16TB of data at each location.  The primary data center resides at city hall and the secondary is across the city at a customer service center.   

"These systems are critical," Rachal said.  "But if city hall went down, we could go to our customer service center, break the mirror and be back online, in full production, within an hour or two," he said.  Before the implementation, he estimated it would have taken four or five days to recover the city’s infrastructure.  

Jonathan Peyton, IBM system x and storage specialist at CMA, said:  "In our state, we are really prone to bad storms and hurricanes—like Katrina.  In a typical IT server room, racks and racks of servers are hard to recover and it is hard to recreate that data," he said.  "Virtualizing that infrastructure makes it so much easier to recover, since the data is not as dependent on the hardware as before.

Virtualization also helped the city of Alexandria cut down on overhead costs such as real estate space, power consumption, and data center heating and cooling, said Rachal.  "We had 28 physical servers that we were paying for," he said. The IBM and VMware technology reduced that number to two, and not only freed up physical space, but dropped power, heating and cooling costs dramatically, said Rachal, though he did not divulge specific numbers.   

Alex Yost, the vice president of IBM’s blade center, said that for many customers, the advantages of blades and virtualization go beyond wanting to move to a newer, more reliable hardware platform.  "Customers are looking for more than just putting their applications on a specific type of hardware.  They can now put more infrastructure in a smaller space and be more efficient and the failover and backup capabilities give them a higher-availability solution," he said.

Peyton said that CMA developed the concept of cross-municipality disaster recovery, and that CMA was in talks with larger cities such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans to develop similar solutions to mirror infrastructure between cities, not just between two locations in the same city.

Rachal said that while Alexandria currently had its infrastructure mirrored in two locations within the city, by the end of the year he was hoping to finalize an agreement with another city to mirror their infrastructures in completely different municipalities.  Alexandria is working out details of the disaster recovery plan with Sulphur and Monroe. Besides the security of knowing that critical city data was mirrored and protected, Rachal said that the cities would save money by not paying a third party to collocate the data stores.