For a high street bank like Abbey, every second of infrastructure downtime equals thousands of pounds in lost earnings. Not surprisingly, the company has taken care to protect its data: backing up customer-facing production systems to one location, and non-production, analytical functions to another. Now Abbey has decided that back-up alone is not enough.
“Historically, we came at business continuity from an IT, disaster recovery perspective,” explains Abbey’s business continuity manager, Jamie Watters. “We have backed up our data onto tape since the 1970s.”
This backing up plan was essential but, says Watters, it eventually became clear that it did not prepare the bank for all possible interruptions. “Our thinking evolved. We began to consider what would happen if one of our buildings wasn’t there, for example.
“One of our biggest problems was that we do not have a lot of spare desk capacity. We are also limited by the fact that certain people need to work in close proximity to each other, and have access to various resources. In an emergency, whole sections of the business need to be moved around.”
Abbey looked for a provider that could handle the task of replicating the desktop environments of the hundreds of users that might be displaced in the event of substantial damage to office sites, and provide extra desk capacity. It chose SunGard.
“A key reason for going with SunGard was their desktop policy,” says Watters. “From bad experiences with other providers, we found that we needed a different desktop image not only for each unit of the business, but also for each different hardware specification of the many PCs around the offices. We effectively need one desktop image per PC, and that is what SunGard could offer.”
Abbey were also attracted by the way SunGard manages emergency desk capacity for multiple customers, providing capacity on a first-come-first-served basis. “If they offered shared space, we would not have guaranteed access to the 500 or so desktops we need for the business to function. It is not worth paying the money for a service that would not let us continue to operate in the event of an emergency.”
Watters emphasises that the significant investment Abbey has made in business continuity was not driven purely by the fear of disasters. As well as meeting Financial Services Authority regulations, business continuity provisions also project an image of capable, forward-thinking management that can improve shareholder value. Moreover, many insurance firms are refusing to insure companies that do not have adequate business continuity in place.
Watters believes that the key to a successful implementation is a clear understanding of the risks that face the company, and a constant process of testing the procedures designed to limit the damage caused. “Only constant rigour,” he warns, “can protect your business.”