When 3.7 million residents of Louisiana, east Texas and southern Arkansas require blood, they depend on LifeShare Blood Centers. For more than 70 years, the Shreveport-based nonprofit has supplied hospitals and other medical facilities with vital red blood cell, plasma and platelet components. One in three residents will require blood at some point, and their lives will depend on that supply being available.
Hurricane Katrina, the devastating August 2005 Gulf Coast disaster, played havoc with LifeShare and its blood supply as the storm closed several of their regional centers, increased blood demand substantially, kept donors from giving blood and, consequently, decreased levels of critical blood types to dangerously low levels.
Hurricane Katrina prompted LifeShare to evaluate their disaster recovery systems. LifeShare needed to retain a vendor to provide disaster recovery services for its critical IT systems and infrastructure, including its blood banking programs.
“Our priority is to ensure a safe blood supply, available during all times of need” explains LifeShare’s Chief Information Officer, Ric Jones. “In a way, our business is an emergency management business – be it a major disaster or a single individual needing blood in a life or death situation.”
He notes that LifeShare must always build contingencies into its planning and disaster recovery program. “In addition to hurricanes and other severe storms, we have to be prepared for the occasional fiber optic cut by a backhoe operator, or damage from a lightning strike and situations like that,” he says, adding that LifeShare’s Lake Charles, La., blood bank was offline for four days from a lightning strike.
Furthermore, LifeShare must comply with regulatory requirements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and AABB standards, which call for a secondary site along with robust data protection and replication should the main data center go dark.
Partnering for business results
Initially, LifeShare used an Oklahoma City based provider for disaster recovery services. But the vendor wasn’t able to keep up with the LifeShare workload. Its statistics constantly showed that a very large data backlog hadn’t been processed or copied, Jones says. Eventually it proved difficult for the vendor to test the system annually.
Using Gartner research, Jones and his staff conducted a review and evaluation that led them to Sungard Availability Services. Several other disaster recovery providers were considered, but they didn’t possess the same high caliber of disaster recovery availability service, he explains.
“In our meetings with Sungard AS, I was really impressed with the knowledge and experience of its engineers, and the level of detail with questions they asked,” Jones recalls. “We felt comfortable with them.” LifeShare contracted with Sungard AS in March 2012.
LifeShare now uses Sungard AS’ Recover2Cloud to protect its critical applications and works hand-in-hand with Sungard AS support staff to ensure data is constantly backed up and protected. LifeShare and Sungard AS test annually and Jones commented that the annual testing now “works absolutely great.”
Sungard AS supports LifeShare with secure cloud-based recovery for the 12 servers and numerous critical applications that handle its vital blood data – donors, inventory, blood drives – as well as its financial and payroll systems. A mirror copy of its data systems in Shreveport is replicated in a Sungard AS’ northeast data center.
“Essentially, what Sungard AS provides allows us to run our business operationally with everything we need,” Jones says. That’s important since LifeShare has a small IT staff managing seven blood centers – including the computer systems and desktop solutions, mobile PCs and 800 workstations across the operation as well as printers.
“Sungard AS and its support staff free us up to keep doing the things we must do,” says Jones. “We don’t have to worry about having IT staff experienced in disaster recovery, Sungard AS manages that need.”
This proves critical, too, because LifeShare’s donor roster is more than 150,000 deep and it collects and processes about 500 donors a day. If the Shreveport center is down one or two days, it can’t collect the data it needs to provide blood in demand. No other center has its own infrastructure and computer system in place. Rather, each individual center must hook up and log in to the Shreveport data center.
LifeShare continues to see instances that reiterate the importance of a robust disaster recovery system. For example, LifeShare serves as a reference laboratory testing blood for multiple antigens and cataloguing the information. It is one of very few organizations tracking and utilizing this information worldwide.
In 2010, an unborn baby in England needed rare blood; LifeShare was able to find a matching blood donor in their system based on the testing information they had on file. The donor was in Arkansas on vacation but came to Shreveport, donated blood, and within 48 hours the blood was on its way to England. This vital research information would be in jeopardy if LifeShare didn’t have a disaster recovery backup system.
LifeShare Blood Centers has confidence that Sungard AS Recover2Cloud is effectively protecting their critical data. Jones concludes, “We can rest easy knowing our critical systems and blood data are always available with a strong disaster recovery system in place.”