- By Joab Jackson
- Nov 16, 2005
ACCESS ON THE GO: SunGard can roll out mobile COOP facilities,
That house office resources for keeping agency workers on the job.
The IT needed to keep government going in an emergency varies from agency to agency. The need itself does not.
EMERGENCY RELIEF: Segovia's broadband-over-satellite services have proven vital for various agencies' COOP needs in disaster areas such as Mississippi.
For the Coast Guard, continuity of operations means getting all parties in communication as quickly as possible'which is why it can literally take its communication centers on the road.
The Guard has two communications master centers, strategically located in different parts of the country, which it uses for long-distance voice and data communications with vessels and public ships. Should disaster strike one or both of these sites, the agency has backup facilities nearby that can take over operations. And should those fail, the Guard also has three mobile Transportable Command Centers, which are trailers outfitted with radio and military satellite equipment. The equipment on these trailers uses a number of commercial satellite companies and also provides links to the Coast Guard backbone network.
'These communication centers can duplicate many of the capabilities [of the command centers]. They might not have the full-extended range, but they are self-contained and have their own power-generating capabilities,' said Captain Robert Day, division chief for the United States Coast Guard Pacific Area. On short notice, the trailers can hook up to a truck and go virtually anywhere. Or they can be flown to a remote location in a C-130 aircraft. After Hurricane Katrina, they were dispatched to the Gulf Coast.
The Coast Guard even put together a prototype scaled-down, suitcase-sized 'kit' version of its TCC for handling just phone and Internet access. 'When we look at contingency communications, some of the first things people want [are] voice and data,' Day said.
As the Coast Guard knows, establishing a continuity of operations plan involves making choices about what is essential to your agency's mission. Then it's a matter of putting in place the technologies that will support the COOP plan.Steps to COOP
Setting up a COOP plan is a five-step process, said Roy Jackson, vice president of consulting for systems integrator CAS Severn Inc. of Laurel, Md. In order of execution, the steps are:1 Business impact analysis
. The agency defines those operations essential to fulfill federal COOP requirements and the IT needed to support those operations. Jackson points out that only the agency's essential missions need to be operational. Not everything needs to be replicated.2 Current assessment
. The agency looks at what equipment it has on hand that could fulfill its COOP requirements. In many cases, redundant networking gear and data backup systems are part of daily operations.3 Gap analysis
. The next step is to figure what additional capabilities would be needed. In the Coast Guard's case, mobile communications were among the gap fillers.4 Building to recovery specifications
. In this step, the agency details how the essential systems could run in an alternate setting. This is also where the agency should designate chains of command, pinpointing personnel in charge of getting the backup systems running.5 Recovery testing
. The agency should develop a methodology for testing the COOP plan and then run through a mock disaster to assess its ability to effectively switch over systems and maintain operations. Several government organizations offer guidance for testing COOP plans.
As these steps show, COOP is much larger than just IT, yet IT still plays a considerable role. Chris Shenefiel, manager for worldwide federal solutions for Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., identifies multiple successive layers of technologies that must be addressed when building a COOP. Each layer of technology must be in place for an agency to work during a crisis.
First is the network layer, the equipment that conveys information between end users. The second layer, the application layer, includes not only the programs employees use but also the services, such as domain name servers, that provide information about where applications can be found.
The third layer is the communications layer, which describes the tools that support operations throughout a disaster. Agency employees need to know how to check in and talk with supervisors. Citizens need information on what services the agency will be offering.
Finally, according to Shenefiel, there's workforce support, which is the technology layer that allows the workforce to remain productive during a COOP situation. This includes items such as virtual private networks and remote collaboration tools employees could use to continue working from home.
'If a building is compromised by a positive anthrax test, then employees can't go to that building. So they have to find some alternative way to connect,' Shenefiel said.COOP technologies abound
For its part, Cisco earlier this year introduced what it says is an integrated COOP architecture specifically for government. Built on the company's existing portfolio of IP-based networking solutions, Cisco's VirtualCOOP also includes its new MeetingPlace Crisis Management Application, which it developed with Chantilly, Va.-based Apptis Inc. MeetingPlace is a dynamically provisioned collaboration platform that establishes a permanent communications bridge in the event of a disaster.
As you might imagine, there are a slew of IT solutions that might support a COOP plan. Here's a very brief sampling:
Continuous Protection System 1200I from Revivio Inc. of Lexington, Mass. Revivio specializes in the emerging backup field of continuous data protection. CDP is the process of copying changes to a data set as they happen, allowing administrators to roll back to any given point in time. CPS 1200I is an appliance that acts as a CDP traffic cop and can get systems back to a pristine state in the event of an outage [www.gcn.com
Data Guard from Oracle Corp. of Redmond Shores, Calif. Data Guard grabs all the data entered or changed in an Oracle database and stores it at a remote location. The backup can be switched into production on short notice. Given the prominence of Oracle databases in government, it could likely be a part of daily operations as well as COOP plans [www.GCN.com/507].
Double-Take from NSI Software Inc. of Hoboken, N.J. Double Take is a Microsoft Windows replication engine that replicates any data on a server running Microsoft Windows. It does so in real time, so administrators don't have to worry about data being lost since the last backup [www.GCN.com/508].
Living Disaster Recovery Planning System from Strohl Systems Group Inc. of King of Prussia, Pa. LDRPS is an online relational database with templates that agencies can use to plan the COOP process. Putting a COOP plan online means it is available during times of disaster and can be updated easily. It can hold employee names, contractor information, alternate locations, recovery teams and the tasks they must perform [www.GCN.com/509].
NetBackup from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif. NetBackup makes a remote copy of all data in Windows file systems, allowing administrators to recover data and applications when primary sites fail. NetBackup allows for bare-metal restore, which helps re-create a server from a backup, even if the new server is different from the original [www.GCN.com/510].
Riverbed Steelhead from Riverbed Technology Inc. of San Francisco. Riverbed specializes in Wide Area File Services. The Steelhead line of appliances allows users of a WAN to access applications and data with the speed of accessing a LAN. Appliances at each location store copies of transmitted data in case it's requested by other parties. They also eliminate redundant copies of files traversing the network. In a COOP scenario, they can help increase resiliency by geographically separating users from applications. [www.GCN.com/511].
Segovia IP Broadband and On-Demand IP Service from Segovia Inc. of Herndon, Va. Segovia sells pay-as-you-go, IP-over-satellite broadband service for data, voice and video requirements in the event of an emergency. The company has its roots in providing communications to military forces in the Middle East, but it recently provided broadband over satellite to the Army Corps of Engineers and several Air National Guard units that responded to Hurricane Katrina. At press time, a mobile command center Segovia loaned to the Gulfport, Miss., public safety department was still providing emergency voice over IP communications [www.GCN.com/512].
SunGard Availability Services from SunGard Data Systems Inc. of Wayne, Pa. SunGard offers hosted alternate recovery locations, allowing agencies to deploy emergency server and storage space. The company's planning tool, Paragon, can help agencies make up a COOP blueprint [www.GCN.com/513].Work with what's in place
The fact is, agencies already deploy many technologies that can be used as part of a COOP plan. For instance, agencies over the past decades have moved toward a more distributed approach to computing, Jackson said, keeping data or applications in a different location from users. Users then access data and applications over a network. This makes it easier to get users running on a different location.
And while an agency needs to have alternate facilities available, that doesn't necessarily mean an entire second infrastructure, one the size of the original network, must be in place. In fact, such an approach would be unnecessarily expensive, said Tim Hoechst, Oracle's senior vice president of technology for government, education and health care. Instead, an agency should examine resources it already has available and look for ways it could run at reduced capacity.
The agency's enterprise architecture can help in understanding what the essential missions are and what components support those missions, said Pat Burke, director of command, control communications and intelligence practice at SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va. The EA shows redundancies and hidden dependencies.
'The enterprise architecture is critical in understanding what those cross-functional dependencies are that could undermine your ability to execute your mission,' Burke said. 'If you don't understand how all these things interconnect, you could design a great solution that would just fall on its face.'
Finally, IT experts emphasize it's important to keep staffing in mind when building systems to support COOP. When an agency sets up an alternate site, too often they forget that trained personnel must be at that site to run the necessary systems, Hoechst said.
And agencies should realize that a COOP, once created, will never be finalized.
'COOP is really a cyclical process,' Shenefiel said. 'It has to adjust with the organization's mission, the growth or reduction of the size and scope of the organization, and the technologies that become available.'