May 1, 2008

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Forging a Path Along Utah's Corporate Trail

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Plan B

Data Protection and Storage Solutions For All

Jane Gendron

May 1, 2008

Oops. That file contained every vital statistic on every single client, and, poof, it’s gone. The server disconnected. The system went bananas. Shock. Grief. That inevitable string of expletives…but, wait, salvation is on the horizon. It’s not Super Man, it’s better! It’s the back-up plan. A call. A click. Or, perhaps, ignorant bliss as that off-site server the IT department insisted upon kicks into gear. Phew. Data loss, however it descends upon an unsuspecting business — through human error, flood, fire or some other catastrophic black cloud of misfortune —happens to virtually everyone. According to Renee Murphy of Utah Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Your Business Program, Small Business Administration statistics have shown that more than 93 percent of businesses that experience a major data loss are unable to fully recover that information. “We’ve all experienced data loss — all of us. We’ve lost a file. We’ve done something stupid. In fact, one of the highest causes of data loss is human error,” explains Murphy. Lost data, she says, would be terminal for the vast majority of businesses she encounters. Businesses that weather the data loss storm do so because they are prepared with a trusty Plan B — one that’s been through a test-run or two. The options for data protection and storage range from the old-school tape back-up to a techie menu of services provided at highly sophisticated “Mission Impossible”-esque data centers. Shall We Co-locate? It’s not a marriage proposal. Co-location allows a business to essentially replicate a server or multiple servers at an off-site, secure spot. “Customers can bring their IT assets into one of our data centers that have a physically controlled environment, physical security protection and large network connections. They’re staffed 24-7 with engineers; they then run their equipment inside our data center much like they would their own office,” explains Steve Prather of ViaWest, which offers a core product of co-location and hosting. While a customer brings his own computers in the co-location scenario, hosting is more of a complete hand-off (the data center provides the computers). Hybrid hosting is somewhere between the two, allowing a customer to choose from layer upon layer of services provided by the data center. “You can kind of drill our entire business down to uptime and availability,” says Prather. ViaWest, which operates three data centers in Utah, four in Colorado and one in Oregon, supplies a range of services. From network management to routers and firewalls to intrusion detection to managing operating systems and databases, ViaWest provides “reasonably complex to tremendously complex solutions,” according to Prather. The cost of services, he says, ranges from an average of $1,000 per month to several hundred thousand dollars per month. And the data protection comes in a Fort Knox-style package. ViaWest, for example, has closed-circuit interior and exterior TV monitors, magnetic access key cards, a secondary access (biometric scan of a finger print or palm print), round-the-clock on-site staff and secure, physical separation of customer’s goods. Data centers are also designed to withstand disasters ranging from earthquakes to plumbing leaks. Jenny Christensen, spokesperson for Consonus Technologies (which recently merged with Strategic Technologies), says that the company’s flagship data center in South Jordan is designed to weather a quake of up to 7.5 on the Richter Scale thanks in part to base isolators, which she likens to giant Nike shocks, beneath the building’s I-beams. The center has several redundant cooling systems, no running water around the data center floor (the fire suppression is supplied by an Inergen Gas System) and several points of connectivity for telecommunications. “There is no one single point of failure for any of these systems,” she says. Consonus, which provides services ranging from basic co-location to complete IT infrastructure design, operates four data centers in Utah and partners with others across the nation. Cost ranges from under $600 per month to several thousands of dollars depending on a customer’s power, space, bandwidth and level of security needs; Consonus’ data centers range from tier 2 to tier 4 levels (a rating system devised by Uptime Institute). Outside the Data Center Realm For the small business owner, data center services might blow the budget. A tape back-up that is removed from the office each night is a good start, according to Murphy. Whether taking it home, trading with another business, popping the tapes in a safe deposit box or hiring a company like Iron Mountain to safeguard that back-up, she advises testing the recovery of that data and making sure that several people on staff are well-versed in the plan for data back-up and recovery. However, tape back-up isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. “Tape is slow, error-prone and can be quite unreliable,” says Max Ackerman, founder and chief scientist of Revinetix. “If you’ve ever left a VHS in your car and had it burn, you know there are some issues there,” he adds. So, Ackerman devised a tape-free “Disk2Disk2Disk” back-up system, which allows a customer to hook Revinetix’s appliance into his own company’s network and, at the end of each day, pop out a removable hard-drive for safekeeping. “You click, eject and archive,” he says, explaining that the included software is user-friendly and that the Web-based browser is accessible to anyone who’s capable of surfing the Internet. Customers can upgrade capacity up to four terabytes. Revinetix products (which include hardware and software) range from under $3,000 to $150,000. What’s Best for Your Business? As Murphy puts it, “It doesn’t take anyone in rocket science to figure out that downtime is loss of money.” Any type of flub-up, from a power outage to operator error can disrupt and potentially cripple a business. To start the search for a data protection solution, the Web offers a wealth of information. These centers and products are, after all, devised by IT specialists. A simple online search will turn up a feast of solutions, Webinars and references. Plan B is quite possibly just a point and click away.
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