Marriott Takes Disaster Recovery, Virtualization Underground

Marriott's disaster recovery center is 220 feet underground in a limestone mine

Hurricane Katrina and the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center caused scores of companies to reconsider their disaster recovery and business continuity plans, whether they were affected by those catastrophic events or not.

Marriott International was no exception. Marriott's outsourced disaster recovery program depended on a third party company that might require up to 24 hours to restore business critical systems. Plus, Marriott might need to compete with others for space at the recovery facility.

That will change dramatically early next year, when Marriott completes a new "in-sourced" Recovery and Development Center (RDC) in 12,500 square feet of space leased on a long-term basis from Iron Mountain. Marriott anticipates it will slash recovery time for business systems to within four hours, a standard that many other companies also have been trying to achieve.

But, what sets Marriott's RDC apart from the typical disaster recovery facility is its location -- 220 feet underground in a highly-secure and naturally-cooled former limestone mine located about an hour's drive north of Pittsburgh, in the US. When the RDC goes live, Marriott will be the largest private customer operating a data center in Iron Mountain's 145-acre "underground city," which has its own fire company, water treatment plant and 24-hour security and maintenance force to serve the 2,700 people working there from 18 companies and various government entities.

"The RDC demonstrates our dedication to developing innovative technology solutions for our business and the environment. The underground facility will enable cost-effective operations and is environmentally friendly, positioning us to lower our energy consumption," says Carl Wilson, executive vice president and CIO at Marriott.

Marriott's decision to shift from an outsourced cold site, which required a formal declaration process to activate, to an in-sourced hot/warm site, with dedicated space and infrastructure, falls in line with a trend that analysts have been seeing with increasing regularity.

John Morency, a research director at Gartner, says the need for quicker response and recovery times is driving many companies to weigh the cost of their existing contracts with external providers against the expense of doing the work internally. Plus, many IT staffs want added flexibility to manage and test their disaster recovery processes, rather than being subjected to the rigid time frames of many third-party agreements.

Virtualization's Big Role

Virtualization is helping to drive those trends because it affords a cost-effective way to create an in-house test environment, Morency says. Virtualization also aids with the actual movement of workloads from one set of hardware to another set of hardware.

Dan Blanchard, VP of enterprise operations at Marriott, says the company's strategy has been to use virtual servers wherever possible, which in turn, makes the recovery process quicker, easier and more reliable in that part of the IT environment. Because workloads are often shifted, moving them to a disaster recovery environment is just one more step, he says.

Another key advantage: potential errors or problems have likely been spotted and eliminated through ongoing testing, Blanchard says. Applications running on virtual servers aren't validated only on a quarterly basis as part of the disaster recovery test process; they're tested as part of normal operations, Blanchard says.

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