Comms a key challenge in Northgate blast recovery

IT services company loses headquarters in Buncefield oil depot fire

Northgate Information Solutions, which lost its UK headquarters in the Buncefield oil terminal fire, has highlighted difficulties in quickly establishing telecoms connections as a factor in delays in restoring full IT services to its customers.

The company's chief executive, Chris Stone, made the disclosure as he issued a robust defence of the firm's disaster recovery planning, which he said was "way ahead" of most organisations.

The company, which provides IT services to Tesco, Manchester United, the Labour Party and local authorities, lost its datacentre hosting customer IT systems in the explosion on 11 December.

Stone said Northgate's recovery operations were held back by the difficulties telecoms suppliers  BT, Neos Networks and Cable & Wireless faced in rapidly providing sufficient connections to link its customers to a back-up datacentre. "This was not a Northgate problem, it was a supplier problem," he said.

Northgate invoked its business continuity plan, and began rebuilding customers' servers at a Sungard emergency datacentre within hours of the explosion.

Stone, who praised the work of the telcos, said they had struggled to provide data links quickly enough to allow Northgate to fully restore services as rapidly as it had hoped. "All customers were live and running very quickly, but on a limited basis, simply because of practical difficulties in quickly obtaining connections," he said.

"Well over half the customers are back to where they were before the explosion. For others, it is still a question of giving them the connections they need. We understand it is a question of time," he said.

Northgate ran into difficulties after the explosion damaged the datacentre and back-up datacentre, multiple back-up power supplies and three independent communications systems held in different wings of the building.

Stone defended the strength of the company's disaster recovery planning, which he said had a level of sophistication and detail that went beyond that of most other organisations.

Stone said BT, Cable & Wireless and Neos Networks had made enormous efforts to resolve Northgate's issues.

BT and Cable & Wireless declined to comment.

Read more on IT risk management