A tiered approach

Privately owned hotel company Macdonald Hotels and Resorts runs 40 properties in the UK and four in Spain. The company, which has its headquarters in West Lothian, uses a mix of outsourced, self-hosted and locally run services to deliver IT to 4,000 staff and 2,500 PCs.

The chain’s core reservation system and website is currently outsourced in order to provide high levels of service and resilience. A second tier, including the business’s Sage financials system and Microsoft Exchange email server, is hosted centrally on internal servers. Local systems, such as tills and leisure club bookings, are run at the hotels themselves.

This multi-tiered approach continues through to the company’s business continuity and IT recovery systems, according to John Rawcliffe, IT director.

While the externally run systems have their own backups in place, Macdonald had to design its own business continuity arrangements for both its applications hosted in house and its local systems at each hotel.

With a small IT team, the challenge for Rawcliffe was to keep the backup and recovery systems simple to use, and to control costs. But the company also has to deal with the increasingly business-critical nature of systems such as email.

“Around 80 per cent of our business is touched by the email system somewhere along the way,” he explains. “That is a dramatic change. I became IT director 15 years ago, and back then if you discussed reservations by email you would be asked why anyone would want to do that. Today it is the default.”

Four years ago, Macdonald opted to improve protection for its in-house systems by creating an in-house, standby data room in a hotel ten miles from its headquarters. Using CA Technologies’ ARCserve Replication, main systems are copied to the standby servers. These currently form a passive standby system, although Rawcliffe is considering active standby as an option for the email servers.

Creating a private disaster recovery centre in a hotel has a number of advantages. Macdonald owns the property so there is no rent to pay and no charges for invoking the disaster recovery plan, but the location is near enough to headquarters to be accessible to staff.

The hotel can also provide meeting rooms and other facilities quickly, if staff need to work from the backup centre rather than HQ. The standby data room itself is fully equipped with cooling, fire suppression, security and redundant power.

Rawcliffe’s team carries out regular testing – at least once a year – for its business continuity plans, but the system was tested for real last summer, when a hardware failure at its main data centre forced a failover to the backup site.
“Our high-availability systems are matched system for system, so we were able to switch with minimum disruption to the business. Our outage was just 20 minutes, which was perfectly acceptable,” says Rawcliffe.

The reason for this, he suggests, is careful planning as well as regular testing. “For business continuity, we looked at the critical areas for the group,” he says. “We had to make sure that our web presence and reservations systems are resilient, and that one step down, for our email and accounts, that those systems are also protected.”

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