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Fukushima sends Japanese IT to the cloud

Disaster recovery planning has had a shakeup since 3/11

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Service providers take flight

It’s not just IT managers in end user organisations that have been taking a good hard look at data recovery and business continuity planning.

Comms service providers have also been quick to improve the resilience of their operations since 2011 with NTT pushing ahead with multiple datacentre locations across Asia and Softbank teaming up with Korean operator KT.

A joint venture of theirs has already seen the opening of a datacentre in Gimhae, South Korea.

The centre has apparently been built specifically with Softbank’s Japanese business customers in mind and will use a submarine fibre optic cable run by the firms to connect the two countries.

In fact, Softbank has been one of Japan’s more proactive technology providers in the months and years since March 2011. Most notably, it announced ambitious plans to build a network of floating mobile phone base stations to service customers in the event of another catastrophe which knocks out cellular infrastructure.

The 3G base station is attached to a helium-filled balloon floating 100 metres off the ground and receives a signal from a truck-based ground station which is either wired into the rest of the cellular infrastructure or is set up to receive satellite comms.

A Softbank spokeswoman told The Reg that ten such balloon-based systems have now “been deployed all over Japan”.

Portable PCs to the rescue

The 2011 disasters also had an impact on the client PC market in Japan, according to IDC’s Masahiro Katayama.

The percentage of “portable PCs” in enterprises jumped from a flat 50.9 per cent in Q3/4 2010 to 54.3 per cent in Q2 2011, driven partly by the increasing need to work from home in the immediate aftermath but also to cope with power cuts.

“Fukushima nuclear plant shut down and Tokyo faced severe power shortages, with noon the most dangerous time. So PC vendors recommended customers use portable PCs with batteries during that time,” he explained to The Register.

Other lessons learned by Japanese IT managers which will probably be of less use to their counterparts elsewhere in the world are outlined in a Gartner report from last year: Applying Lessons Learned From Catastrophic Events in the Decade Since 9/11.

In the report, analyst Roberta Witty details how disaster recovery efforts in Japan were complicated by the fact that different parts of the country use different electrical standards, making the replacement of computers, phones and other kit more problematic.

Multi-nationals with operations there also had to contend with severe language difficulties when trying to transfer key data to back-up sites outside the country during the first few days after 3/11. Most expats had been evacuated so there were few staff left with the requisite language skills to “make the necessary prioritisation decisions about the data”, the report said.

It adds the following perspective:

This series of events truly represents the worst-case scenario for the BCM professional — and thus offers perhaps the most valuable set of lessons learned … The almost unimaginable chain of events in Japan – and their on-going "ripple effects" on enterprises worldwide – make it clear that the unthinkable is no longer unthinkable. BCM professionals must plan for the complete loss of people, facilities and resources for extended periods.

With the Fukushima crisis still rumbling on and with a string of subsequent global natural disasters, from the Thai floods of 2011 to Hurricane Sandy, this advice has never been more pertinent for IT managers. ®

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