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Pomona College and University of Puget Sound Join Forces for Disaster Recovery

Kenneth Pflueger, chief information officer at Pomona College

Kenneth Pflueger, chief information officer at Pomona College

If a major earthquake or disaster should ever hit a metropolitan region on the West Coast, two liberal arts colleges know that the technology backbone at each of their campuses is ready for it.

University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., and Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., have formed a groundbreaking alliance that will protect each college’s critical data in the event of a disaster. Each institution has agreed to host backup computer equipment holding the partner’s vital data in its own campus computer center. This will allow a disaster-struck campus to quickly tap into its reserve off-site servers and restore its critical business systems. The two campuses are far enough apart that it is highly unlikely both would be hit by the same disaster.

The innovative solution is believed to be highly unusual among liberal arts colleges. It has the advantage of being very low cost, while providing each college with a means to recover essential services within a day or so, rather than the weeks it can take under the recovery system commonly used by small colleges.

Currently most colleges rely on the so-called “iron mountain” means of disaster recovery. This involves storing digital tapes with a private company. In the event of a disaster, the tapes can be accessed, but it can take weeks to rebuild the campus servers on which they run. Alternatively some institutions provide backup servers to a private company to host off campus, but this can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

“I have had a vision about this for quite a long time, and I’m thrilled to see it become reality,” said Kenneth Pflueger, chief information officer at Pomona College. “It’s the one piece of our disaster recovery plan that was missing. I hope this might be a model for other small institutions.”

“It really is very exciting,” said William Morse, chief technology officer at University of Puget Sound. “If a disaster happens, the essential services we really need as an institution can quickly recover. This kind of cooperation is the way of the future for liberal arts colleges.”

Pomona and Puget Sound will each provide a computer rack for the other college’s servers over this summer and fall. If one college suffers a disaster that damages its campus servers, it will access the off-site servers and restore vital email and website functions, financial services, campus membership and identity data, course details, and other functions key to the academics, business, and safety of the college.

Intriguingly it took several years for Puget Sound and Pomona to discover their mutual interest in this arrangement. At Pomona, Pflueger began looking for a partner about six years ago, initially on the East Coast. He found plenty of interest, but no one who committed to action. Morse began looking about the same time, first while he was at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, and later when he joined Puget Sound in 2010.

Pflueger realized that the partner he needed was a West Coast college, which faced similar threats of an earthquake, yet one that was far enough away to minimize the chance it could affect both campuses. An email message to Morse led to a working lunch at an EDUCAUSE technology conference, and the project was born.

Pflueger and Morse say the partnership is an example of the collaboration that liberal arts colleges can achieve in today’s shifting higher education landscape—a need that was broadly discussed at the recent Lafayette College conference, The Future of the Liberal Arts College in America and Its Leadership Role in Education Around the World.