Marriott Takes Disaster Recovery, Virtualization Underground

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

But, Marriott hasn't been able to shift all of its applications to its VMware technology. Some vendors have refused to support their software if it runs in a virtual environment, and others haven't figured out how to charge for licenses, Blanchard says. So, like many companies, Marriott must maintain more traditional processes and procedures for the recovery of some of its business systems.

If Marriott's use of virtualization technology isn't especially unique, its selection of a physically inaccessible bunker for disaster recovery is, says Laura DuBois, an analyst at IDC (a sister company to CXO Media.) That decision would be more common for a financial services firm or a company based in Europe, where the level of security tends to be heightened over threats of terrorism and bombs, DuBois says.

Economic and Environmental Gains

Marriott, however, reasoned that the decision would make sense from both an economic and an environmental standpoint. The company calculated that the 10-year cost of co-locating a new data center at Iron Mountain's underground facility would be cost neutral compared to its existing agreement for disaster recovery, according to a spokesperson. Plus, the opportunity to improve energy efficiency would bring significant savings and help the company to achieve its environmental goals.

Blanchard says the key differentiator that pushed the Iron Mountain facility ahead of two other finalists was the environmental benefit. The top criteria to select the site had been mileage (because the company wanted IT staffers to be able to reach the facility without need of an airplane,) security and the corporate philosophy to "conserve and preserve," he says.

One of the chief costs associated with a data center is the power to keep the computers cool. Because the ambient temperature in the mine is 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, Marriott will be able to reduce its energy consumption, as well as lower operating costs. The company also plans to take advantage of the mine's underground water supply to cool its equipment via chilling towers.

Marriott had hoped to pursue the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation from the US Green Building Council. But, there is currently no process to certify a subterranean environment, according to Charles Doughty, VP of "The Underground" at Iron Mountain. But, the mere reuse of an existing facility reduces the environmental impact that new construction would have brought.

The dual nature of Marriott's RDC-as not only a disaster recovery facility, but also a second data center-provides an added boon. The development, quality assurance and test systems in the underground facility will be active on a daily basis, until they're needed in an emergency recovery situation.

"The reason we did that is it saves us a lot of money. We're dually using those systems," says Blanchard. "That prevents us from having to go out and purchase and power a set of infrastructure that does nothing but sit there and wait for a disaster."

The systems will be identical to those in the production environment, so staffers won't need to brush up their skills on different technology in a disaster scenario. Virtual servers will ease the movement of some workloads from one set of hardware to another, even possibly from servers at the primary data center to servers at the new RDC, Blanchard says.

Initial plans call for two Marriott employees to work on provisioning and maintenance work at the underground site, with the potential to add more staff and space, if necessary, to accommodate business growth. Marriott has some 115,000 rooms in the pipeline over the next several years, according to a company spokesperson.

"Building this second data center," says Blanchard, "we position ourselves to be able to accommodate that kind of [business] growth."

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