Like many institutions, Murray State University (Ky.) paid a vendor to back up its data regularly and store it off-site for retrieval in case a disaster struck campus and wiped out hard drives and servers. But university administrators found the service lacking for a variety of reasons: It was pricey in lean times, recovering information was too lengthy a process, and effective testing was practically nonexistent.
“We were not happy with our contract,” explains Brian Purcell, associate CIO and information security officer. “We were looking for different ways to do this.”
Murray State’s answer was practically in its own backyard, thanks to the high-speed data network the Commonwealth of Kentucky had constructed to link state institutions.
“We have this wonderful network that connects our state universities,” Purcell acknowledges, “and we were looking for ways to take advantage of that.”
Murray State took advantage by joining with Northern Kentucky University, a state school 300 miles away, to implement mutual disaster recovery solutions. Each university houses a data center, including network switches, servers, and a storage area network, for the other. Thanks to the hefty bandwidth, MSU can send nightly backups to its servers at NKU. Northern Kentucky plans to begin reciprocating within a year.
Fiscally, the solution has worked well. Murray State spent a shade over $100,000 to purchase new equipment; factoring in a typical four-year depreciation cycle, the school’s yearly investment is about $25,000, significantly less than the $38,000 it was paying annually to its vendor.
Trading server space and backing up data along a high-speed network allows two state schools the ability to bounce back from disasters more quickly and inexpensively.
Functionally, the benefits may be even greater. Dedicated hardware, constant availability, and high bandwidth have improved functionality, reduced recovery time, and provided a predictable recovery point for lost data. Testing is more reliable, and concerns about vendor-supplied hardware are no longer an issue.
“Our standard and traditional contract with the vendor required us to load ourselves in a plane or drive for multiple days to get to the site, and then at that point, we’d be building our systems from scratch,” says CIO Linda Miller. “There’s nothing unusual about that, because that was the only option.”
But with enhanced bandwidth and the ability to retrieve data almost with the flip of a switch, she continues, Murray State now is on the cusp of not just better recovery of data following a disaster, but also much more robust recreation of institutional operational capacity under such circumstances.
“This is a foundation,” Miller says. “We’ve got great potential to build a real business continuity structure based just on duplicating our disaster recovery profile that we had from our other contract.”
A standing biweekly conference call allows Murray State’s and Northern Kentucky’s IT teams to update each other on the status of the reciprocating project, as well as to chat about IT issues that have come up on campus.
“The standing calls improve communication,” Purcell says. “Even if they’re only five or 10 minutes, we’re still touching base. There’s been a tremendous willingness on both sides to help the other, because both see the value of what we’re doing.
“Sharing knowledge is the next step,” he adds. “We want to expand our standing calls to do more than talk about the situations of our DR environments. It’s spurred on a better collaborative environment between the technology teams at the different universities.”