Disaster recovery on the cheap

The Alabama Criminal Justice
Information Center (ACJIC) was
stuck between a rock and a hard
place. On one hand, the information it
kept track of was being requested
around the clock by police officers,
correction officials and others. On the
other, the center had little money to
spend on extras, such as measures to
ensure disaster recovery.

But managers found that, with some
creative thinking, they could not only
get a disaster recovery plan with limited
funds but also improve the
uptime of their service.

Started in 1975, ACJIC serves as
the information hub for all the criminal
justice data collected by the state.
The system performs 18 million
transactions per month for as many
as 15,000 people a day. Not bad, considering
only 10 people run the show.

'We do a ton under budget constraints,'
said Maury Mitchell, director at
the agency.

As the operation got ramped up, one
missing piece that became increasingly
evident was disaster recovery.

'Disaster recovery has not always been
on the forefront of state government
because of budgetary restraints,'
Mitchell said. 'Everyone is just struggling
to get operations done.'

The organization did have tape backups
of the data itself. But even small disruptions
could stop operations.

'Five years ago ... we had one rack with
three servers sitting in the hallways at
the administrative offices, under a sprinkler
system,' said Jeff Matthews, IT
director at the center.

Also, the system was run from a state
mainframe in Montgomery.

What to do? One option would be to
consider companies that offered commercial
backup services.

That would be a costly approach, however
' as much as $90,000 per year.
Instead, Mitchell and his crew cobbled
together their own recovery plan.
They found another state agency with
some extra rack space it was willing to
rent out for around $12,000 a year,
where ACJIC could house its backup
server, an ES7000 from Unisys, and a
20 T storage area network.

The center also deployed backup software
to duplicate the data in
Montgomery. 'Once we got the solution
in place, it didn't cost a lot,' Mitchell said.

How did the center get the additional
money for the disaster recovery setup?
By appealing to the other agencies that
used the service, Mitchell said. The
agencies saw how such continual service
would benefit their own operations, so
they all agreed to chip in to maintain the
backup services.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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