Disaster recovery: Be prepared

Data storage and backup is crucial in the event of an emergency - and it's never too soon to start planning

Critical business papers floating through the New York air. Documents stored on PCs lost in smoke and rubble. Information-laden storage devices crushed under mountains of concrete and steel.

How corporate data was input, stored and backed up wasn't the first thing on people's minds in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks. We were all, rightly, thinking of far more important things -- family, friends, co-workers and others near and far.

But as this story points out, I-managers are back at work and desperately trying to set priorities for the new business order. They have a lot to think about, and network security tops the list. Yet, one of the key pieces of a networked system is the storage device attached to it.

I-managers, experts say, need to re-evaluate their storage needs. Most of the businesses and government agencies housed in the World Trade Center stored and backed up their data. Still, news came out that tons of information wasn't handled properly, and scores of critical business documents and important government files were lost forever.

Corporations took this as a warning. Most now want desktops and laptops tied tighter to storage systems. And they want those systems to be available anywhere at anytime and backed up in real-time.

Not surprisingly, spending on storage hardware, software and services is rising. IBM and other vendors recently reported a year-over-year storage business increase. Granted, EMC, a market leader of information storage systems, posted a stiff third-quarter loss. The company cited tighter IT budgets as one of the reasons for the financial backslide.

And that's a big issue: I-managers are dealing with expanding demands and shrinking budgets -- and trying to reconcile the two.

There are options. I-managers can buy fewer storage machines or more less-expensive ones. Or they can farm out their storage needs.

Some warning: If you're thinking about buying, first consider the total cost of ownership. "Acquisition costs are only about 20 percent of total cost of ownership," according to a Gartner research report issued in March. Administration, storage backup, hardware management and other environmental issues must all be factored into any buy decision.

The other option, of course, is outsourcing. Storage service providers, Gartner says, "can provide a way to rapidly re-engineer and scale storage environments, while making the investment less capital-intensive. Although the overall outlook for SSPs is highly debatable, we think they warrant consideration today." Indeed, many SSPs are struggling. And one of the biggest players in the field, Exodus Communications, filed for Chapter 11 protection last month. One of the most obvious checks before outsourcing any critical resources is making sure the provider will be around for the duration of the contract. Be careful.

Just one more warning: The time to re-examine storage needs is now. In the event of a disaster, the quality of your data setup and backup can be a corporate lifesaver.

John McCormick is Editor of Interactive Week.

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