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Hurricane Season

July 13, 2009

Jack Ganssle-July 13, 2009

It's hurricane season in the US. Do you know where your data is?

Four years ago my son started college. In late August we moved him into his dorm. Completely serious, I said: "Graham, you have the best room on campus. If you look over the levy you can see the lake!"

That was a week before Hurricane Katrina. The school: The University of New Orleans.

Once upon a time we believed in keeping off-site backups. Katrina taught us how short-sighted this is. Now we know that off-site backups must be 1000 miles away. Mother Nature has been angry of late, and it turns out she can take out a city.

So can the bad guys. Or, they will be able to before too many years go by. Though it hurts to think about the possibility, wise companies, especially those located in a dense metropolis, are at risk from all sorts of attacks. Lose the building or the city and all of the data preserved there will be gone.

Then there's the threat of EMP. The Wikipedia entry is practically a handbook for designing an EMP attack. Some correspondents claim, and I don't know if this is true, that solar events can cause EMP-like effects.

This all sounds greatly alarmist, but risk management is an essential part of running a team. The greatest asset most of our groups have is probably our IP, represented in CAD drawings and source code. A fire, water damage or a rogue employee can take our all of the locally-stored IP. Other factors, like the ones listed above, can destroy even off-site backups.

Keep a backup in another state.

A lot of folks use the cloud. There are a lot of services out there, like JungleDisk, which encrypt your code and feed it into networks of servers. Your legal group may have issues with this, but it's a technically-attractive solution. One wonders, however, what an EMP-like event would do to a server farm.

Someday the accountants will realize just how much of a company's value is tied up in source code. Till that day we engineers have to protect this vital, and all-too-vulnerable, asset.

Of course, according to a news story on Physorg.com we may soon get non-volatile memory good for a billion years!

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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