by Stephanie Overby

NBA Team Rebounds From IT Disaster

Feb 25, 20133 mins
Disaster RecoveryRisk Management

After Katrina, the New Orleans Hornets built a stronger disaster-recovery operation: a hot site with a diesel engine big enough to 'power a locomotive.'

When Tod Caflisch joined the New Orleans Hornets as vice president of IT in 2007, the entire pro basketball franchise was returning from a unplanned two-year stay in Oklahoma following Hurricane Katrina. While the team’s tenure in Oklahoma City proved a boon for that city’s basketball fans, it was a situation no one wanted to repeat.

“It was a crash and burn when the hurricane hit,” says Caflisch. Tape backups to an Iron Mountain offsite were the sum total of the IT’s disaster preparedness. “Priority number one for me was to put a legitimate business-continuity and disaster-recovery plan in place before the next hurricane.”

Caflisch opted for a replicated hot site, created and hosted by Venyu in Baton Rouge, La. “New Orleans is six feet under [sea level], so flooding–and access to facilities because of flooding–was something we had to address,” he says. “The sole dependence that was ultimately out of our control was power.” Battery backups will buy a data center only so much time. Venyu’s site is located close enough to be convenient if the Hornets need to move operations staff to the hot site, and yet far enough away that “there was never a single hurricane that took them both out,” Caflisch says.

Plus, Venyu’s backup source of power–a diesel engine big enough to “power a locomotive” according to Caflisch–was powered by a grade of fuel not used in government vehicles. “When the military and FEMA moved in during Katrina, they confiscated diesel fuel, knocking out backup plans for companies and individuals.” Justifying the investment was a challenge, Caflisch says, but his research showed that it was “just a fraction” of the potential cost of data loss.

With technology an increasingly integral part of professional sports–teams now use tools such as electronic ticketing, customer databases and performance analytics–“there’s a more heavy reliance on data and data availability than ever before,” says Caflisch. During his tenure, IT introduced a CRM database including everyone from season-ticket holders to prospective clients to corporate partners. “Losing access to that could seriously affect business,” he says, “especially during basketball season.” The peak of hurricane season hits just before players head to training camp.

Today, all critical data and systems are replicated daily with tests just before the June 1 start of hurricane season. Caflisch also put in place a new crisis communication and payroll system.

“I interviewed the staff who had gone through Katrina, and those were their biggest complaints–lack of information about what was going on and not getting paid,” says Caflisch. The crisis communications system, called RallyPoint, enables evacuated employees to log in, update their contact and location information, and talk to one another. Emergency payroll is now handled in the cloud via IOI Pay.

The team made a deal with the Atlanta Hawks to provide a conference space for Hornets executives to use in case of emergency and allow IT to keep a crash kit of equipment there. “If there’s an evacuation, a member of my staff will fly to Atlanta with the executives to set up that remote office,” Caflisch says.

Last October, Caflisch became the VP of IT for the Memphis Grizzlies, where he thought he might not need such a “deeply featured” disaster-recovery system. Then he heard about the earthquake zone around Memphis.

“With some of the initiatives we’re looking to put in place here, access to data is going to be just as important as it was in New Orleans,” he says.

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