System redundancy—for electrical, security, fire, alarm or communications systems—is one of those areas that cause many people to go blank. It may be back-up power generation for just the electrical system or data backup onto tapes for portions of the communication system, but beyond that it is one of those gray areas everyone promises to get to “next time.” But no one can dispute the fact that properly implemented redundancy programs greatly help to reduce overall system downtime, a word that sends shivers down the comptroller’s spine.

All systems depend upon power to operate. No power, no operations. Who hasn’t heard of the horror stories involving lost business due to simple power failures? Chances are you may have even experienced them yourself and even though you may not have had a tangible loss of business, how about the wasted man-hours while everyone waited for the computers to come back online?

There are two distinct trains of thought when it comes to redundancy. The first deals with specifically designed/built-in redundancy, including tried-and-true measures such as redundant cabling, wiring runs and backup power generation systems. These solutions can be used on any system. Generators were once only thought of as a backup for an electrical system, but they have proven themselves to be useful as backup for communication and HVAC systems too. Redundant critical paths and generators also help to keep things running smoothly during scheduled maintenance too, since power can be redirected so that repairs, replacements and assessments can be made without having to take entire system offline.

The second type expands upon the first. Perhaps the best place to start the discussion would be with disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

Banks beware

The financial industry is unique in many ways, but when it comes to keeping systems up and running, they definitely are in a league of their own. In particular, banks truly cannot afford to lose any data so they need to be diligent in preventing information loss. Add to all of this more stringent federal regulations regarding information privacy and the problem compounds itself. Most banks operate in the global realm and therefore need to be available 24 hours a day, regardless of what may or may not be happening in the operation centers’ backyard.

According to research by The Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn., banking institutions spend around 7 to 8 percent of their total data center budget on disaster recovery in comparison to other industries which spend around two to three percent. The figures may seem askew, but the fact of the matter remains that banking institutions hold a unique position as a cash business where revenue losses can add up quickly. Just imagine the loss that would be associated with a bank without ATM functions for eight hours.

Recent trends

One of the newest trends in the redundancy arena is secondary operation centers and distance. Creating off-site operations with the ability to provide support and serve as complete backups are commonplace. Many started the ball rolling by creating secondary data centers so that the vast amounts of information that financial institutions must maintain remain in a separate area. The trend has progressed to the point where systems and applications are also located off site. Banks are wise to explore these options, since they are dependent upon various systems and applications to consistently be up and running.

Choices, choices

Another key element that has begun to gain popularity is to physically locate these off-site centers as far away from the main base of operations as possible. This aspect was compounded in importance because of disasters such as the World Trade Center attacks, the Northeast blackout and even hurricanes and blizzards, where entire geographic areas are knocked out at once.

Banks, for instance, would probably locate back-up systems supporting ATM functions in a remote location since they need to be up and running no matter what happens. Same thing goes for credit card companies with cardholders spanning the globe. Those customers don’t care if the power goes out in downtown Wilmington, Del., or not, they want to and need to use their cards wherever and whenever they choose.

Like everything else in business, the redundancy game is one that involves making decisions based upon individual situations. There is no 100 percent correct answer or one solution that fits every business equally. What’s certain is that it is wrong to ignore the situation, because every business needs to have a backup plan in place.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.