Careers: Interviews
Master in high availability, data center and technology recovery strategies

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Damian Walch, VP of Consulting, T-Systems.

 

Damian (CISA, CBCP, CISSP) has over 13 years in business continuity, security and high availability with over 75 companies, with a specialization in building and "internalizing" recovery programs.

 

Prior to joining T-Systems, Damian managed the professional services practice for Comdisco where he provided all facets of services to companies in banking, service and manufacturing industries. As Senior VP of Product Management and Development, he was able to see the economics of hot site providers and was frequently required to benchmark vendor costs against internal recovery costs. Presently, he's focused on data center and technology recovery strategies that are more critical today than ever before

 

Damian is noted in: “2003 - Consulting Magazine's - Top 25 Consultants of the Year.”

 

Discussion:

 

Damian, thank you for sharing your wisdom, knowledge, and valuable experiences with our audience.

 

Q: How did you get into computing—can you detail your personal history? You also have many accomplishments—could you share your most valuable lessons and challenges.

 

A: I’ve been in the business world for approximately 15 years.  I graduated from Marquette University with a business degree specializing in finance.  After working for a bank for 9 months I realized that I was not suited to the pace of a commercial bank.  I wanted something a bit faster and innovative.  I took a bit of a gamble and went to work for Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in their systems engineer development program.  EDS trained the heck out of me.  As a young professional they gave me every opportunity to learn new things in both practical and classroom settings.  It was very challenging.  I also received my MBA while working for EDS.  After EDS I went to work for Comdisco, at $1.5B leasing company that was starting a fledgling consulting business.  I worked my way up from consultant to project manager to director to eventually managing a consulting practice of 230 people.  With regards to the most valuable lesson, there are really two.  First, whatever you do…do it with passion, put your stamp – have an opinion.  Second, maintain balance…whatever that balance is personal and professional, work and fun, brain work and fitness…balance is critical to achievement.

 

Q: How does your company face its daily challenges and where do you see it going in two, and five years? Can you share some of your strategies that would be useful for other companies?

 

A: There are many challenges at T-Systems.  It is difficult to be a fledgling regional division in the midst of a massive global organization.  But we address that challenge by focusing on the “vital few” things that we know we do well and creating a distinct value proposition for them…letting them guide our service.  We focus on the customer!  Let the customer guide our activity.  In that same vain we focus on approximately 20 companies that we currently do work for.  We want to be their strategic partners.  We figure that by word-of-mouth, excellent customer service and business relationships we will expand our business to other companies.

 

Q: Please detail the services you provide to organizations?

 

A: The Computing Services family includes such traditional services as full-service outsourcing and web hosting, but also server monitoring and management.  The Desktop Services provides services such as deskside support, break/fix and asset management.  We provide a complete set of lifecycle services.  We have a Systems Integration practice area that focuses primarily in the area of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.  There is a consulting practice that provides complimentary services in each of those areas including server consolidation and business continuity.

 

Q: From the viewpoint of businesses, what are the challenges they are facing and how will they overcome them? Can you provide predictions of the business environment in two, and five years?

 

A: Obviously the economy is having a dramatic impact on companies.  The press writes on those challenges everyday; however, I think the economy is having a positive impact on business and technology.  The renewed focus on return on investment and payback will help us in the future.  During the 1990’s we were buying technology for technology’s sake.  Companies are cutting costs, but MOST are trying to do so by focusing on the business processes that are critical to creating world-class products, differentiating them in the market and delivering them to customers.  This is the proper focus for companies.

 

Q: What are the main site strategies for disaster recovery/business continuity, pros and cons of each, trends, and the one(s) you would recommend?

 

A: You really must break disaster recovery/business continuity into a couple of areas to be explicit with listeners/readers.  Disaster recovery has typically focused on the recovery and availability of technology and systems that help us run business processes.  Business Continuity has focused on the building of strategies and plans to maintain the business processes and functions in a disruption (e.g. power outage).  Lastly, the umbrella that captures both is Crisis Management, or what your management team is doing to maintain calm and make crucial decisions directly following the disruption or crisis.  The major trend that covers all three areas is that companies are BEGINNING to be more proactive about those programs.  They understand that they are NOT projects, but programs that must be maintained.  Many companies are utilizing internal facilities, computing and human resources to manage those programs.  The other major trend is a much needed emphasis on the protection of data – copying critical files on systems, applications and user workstations.

 

Q: How do the different types of technology solutions play a part—can you describe each, advantages and disadvantages and recommendations you would make?

 

A: When you get into “technology solutions” for disaster recovery solutions you really break that down into a couple different areas:
*reactive recovery solutions – if there is an outage the company would move to another location and recovery via tape on either dedicated or shared platforms (i.e. commercial recovery providers), those platforms are typically similar in configuration
*proactive recovery solutions – if there is an outage at the company they may be mirroring some portions of their data to an alternate facility, therefore enabling faster recovery because less data has to be restored from tape
*high availability solutions – in the event of an outage there is an ability to “fail-over” to an alternate facility or identical platforms

The advantage to the high availability solutions are that a company can recover more quickly with less potential loss of data in the event of a disaster.  In addition, because these are likely “dedicated” solutions they are easier to validate and test on a regular basis.  The primary negative is that they are complex and rather costly.

 

Q: What aspects of IT infrastructure must be considered and what are your commendations for addressing each one?

 

A: Network – must build resiliency into the network and MPLS is a great option.
Data – ensure data is backed-up and taken offsite regularly.
Storage – ensure compatible SAN and tape equipment in alternate site.
Server Platforms – utilize “fast start” and “ghost” technologies to decrease time.

 

Q: Describe the typical pitfalls and “myths”?

 

A: First, is that by spending time and effort on business continuity a company is pulling attention away from “core competencies” and key business processes.  Secondly, why would a company that makes widgets, for example, want to create and educate experts in business continuity or disaster recovery?  Third, is that if the production environment changes often that they would have to invest in duplicate hardware and software purchase two licenses, etc.  In addition it is very difficult when you refresh major platforms or servers.  Lastly, some storage companies are trying to explain to companies that they need not two copies of data, but they should have three or four to be safest.  This is completely unreasonable.

 

Q: What are the career prospects for IT professionals in your field?

 

A: I’m going to be extremely candid on this question.  I think there is a lot of opportunity for somebody that is good at architecting IT recovery and availability strategies.  There are many, many people jumping into the disaster recovery field because it is relatively straightforward and seems to be a growing need.  However, we are getting to a point where there is a large supply of certified professionals.  If an IT professional with good technology background wants to augment skills by adding DR/BC disciplines – I think that is a wonderful idea!

 

Q: What are your top recommended resources for more information?

 

A: 1) www.drj.com and The Disaster Recovery Journal
2) www.contingencyplanning.com and Contingency Planning & Management
3) www.continuityinsights.com and Continuity Insights
4) www.continuitycentral.com
5) www.thebci.org

 

Q: This would be difficult to assess however who or what will be the big winners and losers—you choose the areas to provide this forecast?

 

A: EMC Corporation is in a good position to win, but I’m not convinced that they can organize the resources.  Veritas Software also is in a great position, but I’m not sure they want to provide comprehensive BC services.  Sungard Availability is the big kid on the block and they have everything to lose.  After the acquisitions of Comdisco and Guardian they have all the resources, but they don’t seem to be taking advantage of it.  IBM BCRS is in a good position to win major business, but I don’t know if they value it.  I think Iron Mountain and companies like Qwest can play a very important role in data protection and fail-over.

 

Q: Do you see the IT market turning around and when? What will it look like? How will the structure of IT change within organizations?

 

A: No!  I don’t think it is turning…I think it will be another 12 months before services dramatically turn around.  I mentioned early there will be much more focus on payback and return on investment.  Much more focus on service level management – availability, performance, capacity, etc.  Much more focus on standards like CoBIT and ITIL to increase efficiency of an IT environment.  Eventually utility computing models will take hold and IT will be sold to end-users as a service.

 

Q: As a long-time senior executive, what are your top ten qualities and processes that make for great leadership?

 

A: Wow!  That’s a big question…here goes:

1) Honesty and integrity in all professional business dealings.

2) Great relationship with your staff members, creating open communications.

3) Communication of goals and objectives.

4) Understanding customer needs and objectives – involvement with customers.

5) Good speaking and writing skills.

6) Creativity, problem solving and solution design.

7) Good knowledge of financials and metrics.

8) Good relationships outside of the company – business partners, etc.

9) Balance, they can’t work all the time…you must have diversions

10) Good sense of humor…don’t take yourself too seriously.

 

Q: What drives you to do what you do? 

 

A: I honestly believe there is a distinct need of companies to act more prudently in the area of business continuity and disaster recovery.  The CEO of a $1B company should be confident that if there is a crisis or outage, that their employees would be safe, data would be protected and business processes could start again in a reasonable amount of time.  I don’t believe that most CEOs would say that they are confident in their capability.  I really would like to have an impact on that.

 

Q: Can you provide some insights/predictions about the future of computing in general?

 

A:  Utility-computing models will begin to make there way into corporate data centers.

 

Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position?

 

A: Why hasn’t corporate America and global companies done more to decreases their business and IT risks?  Are the risks that businesses are exposed to increasing?  Is it really true that 3 out of 4 companies that are impacted by a disaster go out of business within 12 months?

 

Thank you again for sharing your years of success and wealth of knowledge and experiences with our audience.

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