Fulcrum Pharma of Hemel Hempstead, UK, kept its business operating in the aftermath of the Buncefield oil refinery fire using Availl WAFS (Wide Area File System) software. With its headquarters offices closed for several days, Fulcrum relied on Availl WAFS software running on its existing Windows servers to provide employees in their UK and US offices continuous access to all files without disruption. Fulcrum's worldwide teams remained productive during the weeks of physical outage - with staffers' continued ongoing work fully accessible from any location 24 x 7.

Fulcrum's experience shows the disaster recovery benefits of Availl WAFS's solution for sharing dynamic files among remote offices at any distance, and providing continuous and consolidated backup with instant failover and failback.

In its work to help pharmaceutical firms develop new drugs, Fulcrum creates virtual teams with members located in the UK and US based offices. Teams need to efficiently iterate on large numbers of shared files such as spreadsheets, Microsoft Project and Office files. Fulcrum also must demonstrate to its clients that its IT infrastructure meets demanding standards for disaster recovery.

Fulcrum deployed Availl software in 2005 primarily to allow local staffs across the oceans to work efficiently on important joint projects. Unlike WAFS solutions based on acceleration or caching, Availl says its WAFS is a true real-time server-to-server mirror which delivers instant file access, with 100 percent coherence everywhere. If any server or the network fails, any other Availl-powered server can take over. All changes made to files while using a failover system will automatically mirror back to the original once the problem is resolved

Full global file access, even during the fire
The value of WAFS with instant failover/failback became readily apparent when disaster struck. On Sunday morning, December 12, the Buncefield oil depot fire destroyed Fulcrum's new office space. Its existing offices and headquarters data center were not useable for over 48 hours. Meanwhile IT support to Fulcrum's worldwide users had to continue.

"Availl basically saved our bacon," said Jason Hamlett, IT manager for Fulcrum Pharma. "We would have been knocked out of business by this fire had it not been for Availl WAFS software. By having a full local copy of all files in the US and the UK we kept doing business almost without incident."

As IT staff watched the flames and smoke encircle their buildings on TV, their servers continued to make all files fully available to all staffers worldwide. The Hemel Hempstead servers simply failed over the users to the US and London servers.

Hamlett said; "DR is not just a 'procedure' to save our business - but a service which we provide to our customers and suppliers. If we had relied on only tape backup from the previous nights, we would have lost files and data - certainly not something I'd want to explain to our clients."

Despite uncertainty for the next four weeks, Fulcrum IT staff kept normal computing operations worldwide without missing a beat. Within four weeks of the fire, Fulcrum's global WAFS network returned to the architecture it had followed before.

Lessons learned
"Real time server-to-server file collaboration is why we deployed WAFS. However even in a well-architected network, simply providing a nightly data backup remains an operational point of failure. It may not be there for you in your hour of need," said Hamlett. "It's also easy to think that your original infrastructure will be back operational quickly, when circumstances may be far more uncertain."

"We literally tested our disaster recovery plan by fire, and largely because of Availl, we found we had assured business continuity," Hamlett said. "We were immensely grateful that we had built a highly redundant, continuously backed-up global network through our Availl deployment. It was the key solution that kept our business operating smoothly in the face of an extended period of uncertainty."

Fulcrum is presently expanding its Availl WAFS deployment to include additional sites in Scotland and France. The company is also testing Availl CDP software at its offices in Japan and France where IT needs to consolidate backups to the UK headquarters.