Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Interview With Dr. Jeff Williams - Part 2

Last month we interviewed Dr. Jeff Williams, a recognized world authority on Disaster Recovery Planning, in order to gain a more thorough understanding of the topic and the concerns inherent in it's implementation. This month is a continuation of that interview; commencing with a discussion on Binomial International's "Phoenix" DRP software.

Monitor: I wanted to talk a little about your product "Phoenix"... how does it work exactly?

Dr. Williams: "What Phoenix does it to help you quickly and easily develop a plan that will work and is acceptable to both your internal and external auditors. It has two modules; one on procedures, one on databases. The procedures module contains all of the technical information that we think that you'll need, and we give you a front end which allows you to simply point and click on those paragraphs that you want in your plan, so that when you generate it, it happens very quickly.

The database module is a set of ten databases of information that we know that you need to effect a recovery. There are four standard EDP databases: hardware, software, systems and applications; and for each of those it's got the regular inventory items, plus it has fields for replacement, make and model; so that if you lose an item, you would already have a shopping list made up. The good thing about EDP resources is that whatever you lose, you can generally replace for less money and more processing power.

Phoenix also has databases for your people, their skills and personal information (so that you can find them at 3:00am); suppliers and their telephone numbers with day and night contacts, emergency services numbers and so on. The thing is that if you've got proper procedures in your plan, you have the databases filled in, and your data stored off site, you can recover your company."

Monitor: You mentioned auditors... what part of an audit would a disaster recovery plan address? What would they be looking for?

Dr. Williams: "Well one thing that auditors look for is the survivability of the company and it's systems. That's really what your recovery plan is doing; because even though we're talking about a recovery, what we're really talking about is business continuity. What you want to do is to mitigate the exposures and to have plans in place so that you can recover quickly.

The other interesting thing is that it's not only auditors that are concerned with this but also the security people. We think that the CFO should be the main client in any company; unfortunately that's not where the majority of our sales come from. Typically they now come from the MIS department or security.

Monitor: So often the CIO then?

Dr. Williams: "That's right."

Monitor: What minimum hardware requirements does your product have?

Dr. Williams: "It'll run on any PC with Windows 3.1 and up"

Monitor: I understand that there is now a release of "Phoenix for Lotus Notes". Why has Binomial chosen to go this route?

Dr. Williams: "We've decided to rewrite the product for Notes because groupware seems to be a central way to manage and update your plan. Otherwise, with standard products, someone in your company has to constantly ensure that the procedures are correct manually, or go after the team leaders and make them do it. With groupware you can automatically do that and obtain sign off that the procedures are correct, or require updating."

Monitor: And there's a workflow component to it as well...?

Dr. Williams: "That's right. With workflow you can ensure that situation escalation procedures are handled automatically and signing authorities are contacted by email when required."

Monitor: I suppose that these events can be timed as well?

Dr. Williams: "Exactly. Ideally every three month's you'll have the system say to the team leaders "either update these procedures or sign off that they're still correct" and in our society if you have to put your signature on a document, you're going to make sure that it's right."

Monitor: Especially if you're held accountable in the event of a disaster!

Dr. Williams: "That's right... you know lives can also be at stake here in certain situations. So the main reason for us going with groupware is to ensure the survivability of the plan."

Monitor: Are there any competing products to "Phoenix"?

Dr. Williams: "We've heard of a couple".(laughs) With 600 companies involved there's bound to be competition; however we've yet to find a product within our price niche. With our product, price is never an issue to a customer; they always seem to be happy with it. A company can spend as much as $25,000.00 US for a product that will do the same sorts of things, and at that price maybe a few things more;  but the thing is how much time do you really want to spend?

Our customers don't want to become Disaster Recovery experts, they don't want to spend a lot of time doing this and they wish it would just go away therefore we've written our product so that you can easily create a plan that will work."

Monitor: Where does your product leave off and a consultant come in?

Dr. Williams: "In some cases, even though people buy the product, they don't feel confident enough to use it on their own; or they want you to do a Business Impact Analysis and so on which isn't part of Phoenix. So they will then engage us to come and do those parts of the exercise, or they'll buy the product and get a company to implement it and supply the training for them."

Monitor: What are some key points to remember when you're designing a DRP?

Dr. Williams: "I guess the key points are to look for your exposures, the places where you're vulnerable to either people, fire, flood etc. and take steps to lessen that exposure.  You have to identify the key people that are to be involved in writing and implementing the plan, as your recovery organization chart is not necessarily the same as your company organization chart... many people aren't good managers in a crisis situation. The other thing is that you must realize that you've got to do training and plan maintenance; otherwise you might as well not even bother to begin."

I'd like to thank Dr. Williams for consenting to be interviewed for this article. If you are interested in further information regarding any aspect of Disaster recovery planning, please feel free to contact me at the email address below or better yet, attend one of Dr. Williams' comprehensive 3 day seminars. The next seminar is in  Denver, Colorado Jan. 12th to 14th. Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Raleigh NC are also cities being visited by Dr. Williams in '98. Please contact Binomial International at (613) 692-4000 for further information.

Originally published in Monitor Magazine's lanStuff column, December, 1997, by technology columnist Ray Richards.

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