The repercussions of last week’s tragedy in New York City and Washington, D.C. are likely to be felt for a long time. People perished, families were shattered, buildings were forever destroyed and a breach in security on American soil was evident. Some businesses will have a difficult time rebuilding while others were lost in the flames and debris altogether. But many businesses with offices in the World Trade Center (WTC) will be able to continue, thanks to a five-decade-old system developed by the military.
When the Internet was designed in the 1950’s for the military branches, a fail-safe formula was incorporated into the computers and its Internet systems. It entailed a number of back-up servers to accommodate the possibility of a mainframe lock-up or downfall.
“The reason for this was so that the community would not go down in two (different) places in the United States, even if a nuclear bomb were dropped in it,” said Tray Leatherwood, owner of Colorado Springs-based Computer Clarity.
Businesses of years past had computer terminals that were originally connected to one mainframe system, centralizing every piece of a company’s information. As the average desktop computer evolved in the mid-90s with a higher level of technology, business owners invested in this hardware that spread the processing power over a number of smaller and faster units. Leatherwood stated that this was when the Internet switched to commercial use. With the Y2K scare looming around the bend, many business owners believed this would be a more secure system to retain information. With the price of an upgrade being expensive, many businesses owners found it less expensive to simply replace their existing systems with newer, smaller computer systems that hooked into a mainframe and had back-up systems automatically installed, such as application servers, Web servers, file and print servers. If the main server became inoperative, another server would automatically take over without a glitch. Also, servers could be easily dispersed and connected to each other in other locations around the globe.
“Rather than buy one machine, it was cheaper to buy three machines because the cost was lower and the technology was better,” said Leatherwood. “In today’s world, the Internet is not the only area of the network. The back-ups are happening on a separate connection, anyway, but are based on the same type of technology (as the original military systems).
“Some companies had been using older, outdated mainframe systems and replaced either servers or all systems,” said Leatherwood, who has been in the industry for nearly 10 years. “Some companies invested in new systems. Nothing would be lost (when the system went down) except a transaction happening at that exact time (when the power disconnected).”
This is what happened at the offices of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter financial services firm in the World Trade Center. The company had 3,500 employees who worked there before its collapse last Tuesday, however, when the company’s telephone and Internet lines ceased operation, its transactions were instantly transferred to another office. Other offices that contain a back-up server include Dallas, San Francisco and Tampa, said local Morgan Stanley Dean Witter office manager Bob Spicer.
“We learned from (the 1993 WTC bombing) how to become more efficient. A lot of redundancies were (later) built in,” said Spicer, adding “If the market had opened up the following day (after last week’s tragedy), we would have been able to do business. No information would have been lost.”
Other local businesses with ties to the WTC twin towers included Sun Microsystems Inc., Raytheon Co., Allstate Insurance Co. and Marsh USA Inc. The types of businesses there ran the gamut from banks, manufacturing offices, investment firms, physicians, attorneys, and real estate companies.
“Servers redirect information to other company servers daily,” continued Leatherwood. For example, if a customer logs onto an e-commerce site to purchase an item, it might be jammed but the customer wouldn’t know this. The order could go through any number of computer routes before safely reaching its destination.
“Technology has changed dramatically, but this is the same nation,” said Leatherwood.
Any type of consumer or investor, whether strictly personal or part of the business community, should feel safe in knowing that their business is secure and technology is one step ahead.