When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it not only devastated structures and institutions but also destroyed sensitive administrative and student electronic records in local school systems. One of the many post-Katrina challenges facing the Jefferson Parish Public School System (JPPSS) of Marrero, La., was the urgent need to create more effective backup, recovery and archiving systems for electronic data to avoid such catastrophic loss in the future.
While many districts have disaster plans to protect electronic data, for schools in the Gulf Coast region, Katrina-the most costly natural disaster in American history- redefined the term "worst case scenario." Traditional data backup plans, utilizing on-site tape and disk archives, which were more than adequate in previous storms, proved insufficient in a hurricane of Katrina's force. Some district educators actually saw their backup tapes, disks and hard drives wash out to sea.
While Jefferson Parish was fortunate enough to have upgraded its technology hardware and backup systems in 2004, the powerful hurricane damaged 70 of the district's 85 buildings and completely destroyed four schools. As part of the huge rebuilding effort, officials reexamined and improved their electronic data systems, but "after last year's losses, we knew we needed a reinforced backup recovery system to streamline our disaster response capabilities and our everyday operations," said Alfred Johnson, director of technology. As a result, the district made the decision to work with computer maker Dell to customize a new data backup system for the 2006-2007 academic year.
The New Standard
The first step towards reducing vulnerability was to simplify a complicated system in which each school stored its data in its own building. Data from each school is now transmitted to the school board office in Marrero, consolidated and saved in a Dell/EMC cx500 network storage system and backed up on-site in a Dell Power- Vault tape library. From this single database, all information is then backed up at a similar site 10 miles away, in Metairie, which "mirrors" the data by continuously updating with identical records via an online connection. Additionally, the data goes to a third location 140 miles inland, in Lafayette, that updates and stores all electronic information at scheduled times. Picture an electronic three-layer carbon copy sheet for every record in the entire school system, with each page stored in a different location. This three- layered strategy reflects the data backup philosophy guiding the design of the system: "Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy," says Karen Bruett, vice president of Dell K-12 and an expert on data backup.
In a Database Far, Far Away
While the three-tier data backup solution of Jefferson Parish may seem above and beyond the requirements of the average school system, many threats to school district data, from fires to hackers, are independent of location. Effective data backup and recovery systems are therefore vital to districts, and the system JPPSS designed with Dell represents a new direction in data protection.
New Web-based data backup companies also offer similar off -site security options that are simpler and more practical for many school districts than sophisticated, custom-made systems. For example, growing numbers of districts are implementing online off -site data storage through companies such as BitLeap, LiveVault and Rediker Software, so sensitive records are safe on company servers no matter what happens locally. Visit the company sites in the resources box to see examples of districts that have prepared for worst-case scenarios.
Kurt O. Dyrli is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.Je