CDW-G Urges K-12 Districts to Rethink Disaster Preparedness Strategies
Outdated plans neglect centralized data, networking and personnel concerns
VERNON HILLS, Ill. - March 23, 2006 - In the wake of last year's series of hurricanes and other natural disasters, CDW Government, Inc. (CDW-G), a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corporation [NASDAQ: CDWC] and leading supplier of brand-name Information Technology (IT) products and services to governments and educators, is offering recommendations that schools can use to avert IT breakdowns. While the hurricanes were – or should have been – a wakeup call, many schools, strapped for cash and IT personnel, still struggle to prepare for disasters and protect vital information.
"Few schools prepare in advance for disasters and fewer yet have comprehensive disaster recovery plans in place," said Vic Berger, lead technologist at CDW-G. "Despite the shift toward automated record keeping and centralized computer data, a brick-and-mortar mentality still prevails. We want to build awareness – both of the problem and of the solution."
"In case of fire, flood, earthquake or some other emergency, there are a multitude of concerns for the district," Berger said. "Administrators have to focus on the physical damage to the buildings, manage the human resources strain and work with IT personnel to protect important data. These days it is about more than just salvaging textbooks and desks."
Averting Disaster During a Disaster
Economies of scale, less expensive networking technologies and No Child Left Behind guidelines are driving a national infrastructure trend: centralization of applications, and the aggregation of data for analysis and reporting at the district level. With so much important information on the line, CDW-G has developed recommendations to improve disaster preparedness at the school or district level:
- Physical security: Even when buildings are closed, they should be secured through video surveillance or security personnel. Additionally, schools should consider using removable hard drives that can be locked or secured offsite
- Backup storage security: Districts should utilize a secondary data storage site, ideally regularly replicating data to the remote site
- Remote access: It may take days for IT personnel to physically access a site due to water or debris. A secure sockets layer virtual private network (SSL VPN) gives staff secure access to data
- Personnel authentication: Data can be most vulnerable to fraud immediately after a crisis. Districts should require passwords before granting network access and, for sensitive data, should consider requiring hardware devices, such as key fobs, to control network access
- Backup infrastructure security: Districts should give backup IT sites the same level of security, such as firewalls, patch management and intrusion detection, as the primary site
Collier County Public School District, located on Florida's hurricane-prone Gulf Coast, has put CDW-G's recommendations into practice, demonstrating how schools can prepare for disasters. The fast-growing district, with 44,000 students and 55 schools, contracted with CDW-G and APC, a leading global provider of end-to-end infrastructure availability solutions, to provide an infrastructure solution for the district that ensures data protection and continuity of operations.
The CDW-G/APC-designed infrastructure supports a network management system from Novell and security tools from Cisco for 21,000 workstations, 1,200 routers and switches and 300 servers. Instructional usage is at the core of the network – and represents 95 percent of the district data, including all student and teacher home directories and application data that tracks student progress.
To protect data, Collier County launched a new data center at Palmetto Ridge High School to serve as a disaster recovery hot site. Twenty miles away from the main facility and located further inland, the second site should be less prone to catastrophic damage from high winds and flooding. Live data synchronization will connect the new backup center with the main facility where critical electronic data is presently stored.
"If you're centralizing your resources as much as we are, putting all your eggs in one basket doesn't make much sense," said Tom Petry, Collier's district coordinator of network technology. The Palmetto Ridge site will do double duty – as an emergency recovery center, and as a secondary data collection resource, to keep up incrementally with the district's growth in school buildings and data-storage needs.
A fiber optic network that will provide connectivity to every school in the district is currently under construction. "Now that all of our servers are being centralized, we wanted to avoid a single point of failure," Petry said. "A high-level redundancy strategy required a second location."
If power or fiber fails at the main storage facility, Collier has a generator that works for 36 hours on battery backup. The new disaster recovery hot site will offer additional redundancy protection. As a designated hurricane shelter, it is designed to sustain a category 5-storm surge.
Safe Students and Personnel
Natural disasters are not the only threats Collier County is prepared for. The district must ensure the integrity of student and employee data from hackers and predators. The district's customized directory is protected by three separate software programs that continually update information, synchronize user identity and secure communication. On occasions where the district has been hit by a virus, the IT staff has been able to distribute patches through the system without network interruption.
While Collier County's new data center was designed to meet the growing needs of the county and sustain power throughout extraordinary circumstances, it was at capacity after just two years. "We needed a new uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and air conditioning system that could handle the demands put on the system today and in the future. APC was the only vendor that could provide what we needed," Petry said. Using APC's unique architectural approach for network-critical physical infrastructure, the facility now uses an open, building block approach and standardized modular components that integrate power, cooling and environmental management within the design.
Through Collier County Public Schools' multilayered approach, the district has the tools it needs to secure itself from threats, whether natural or man-made.
CDW Government, Inc. (CDW-G), a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corporation (NASDAQ: CDWC), a FORTUNE 500 company, is a trusted technology advisor and solutions provider to federal, state and local government agencies, as well as to educational institutions at all levels. CDW-G responds with a sense of urgency to customer technology needs, delivering best-in-class solutions from top-name brands such as APC, Cisco, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Sony, Symantec, Toshiba and ViewSonic. CDW-G focuses on building strong customer relationships with its knowledgeable account managers and technical specialists who provide extensive pre- and post-sales support.
For more information about CDW-G product offerings, procurement options, services and solutions, call 1.800.863.4239, or visit the CDW-G Web site at CDWG.com.