Disaster recovery finds silver lining

Computer systems backup providers haven't seen the spike in business they might have expected from the Iraq conflict or the SARS outbreak--but that doesn't mean the disaster recovery industry is faltering.Disaster recovery companies--which prepare clients to restore data and systems after fires, terrorist attacks and other crises--are enjoying other boosts.

Computer systems backup providers haven't seen the spike in business they might have expected from the Iraq conflict or the SARS outbreak--but that doesn't mean the disaster recovery industry is faltering.

Disaster recovery companies--which prepare clients to restore data and systems after fires, terrorist attacks and other crises--are enjoying other boosts. These include government efforts to better safeguard data in the financial services and healthcare fields, as well as corporations' desire to improve their recovery speeds.

Several years ago, businesses often planned to be able to bounce back from disruptions in 48 hours, said Brian Fowler, director of global business continuity services at Hewlett-Packard. But with so many companies relying on Web sites to take orders and to connect with customers, a 24-hour window is becoming a more common demand.

"Today, in this e-business world, more and more of those recovery times are coming down," Fowler said.

Disaster recovery services range from consulting, to data backup at remote sites, to dedicated alternative offices and equipment, to mobile offices that can roll to a customer's site. Major players include HP, IBM and SunGard. The services can be expensive. HP might charge US$300,000 or more per year for its highest level of service, Fowler said.

In a report last year, market research firm IDC said the backup recovery services market would grow from US$3.0 billion in 2001 to US$4.2 billion in 2006, for an annual growth of 6.9 percent.

The broader business continuity market--including software and hardware such as high-availability computers and storage area networks (SANs)--was seen by IDC as expanding from US$29.9 billion in 2001 to US$54.9 billion in 2006, marking an annual growth of 12.9 percent.

Though HP won't break out its revenue for the business continuity services unit, the company had "very good growth" in this segment in the last year, according to Fowler.

Historically, the industry has had to consider largely natural disasters such as fires, floods and hurricanes. But a new era was ushered in by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Backup providers learned was that getting people reconnected to their technology is as vital as keeping information safe, said Patricia McAnally, director of marketing for SunGard Planning Solutions.

Some companies in the World Trade Center did have their data backed up at remote sites, but did not have a good plan for reuniting their employees and getting them an alternative place to work, she said. "Business continuity isn't just focused on the data centre...and the technology (anymore)," McAnally said. "It's also focused on the people."

The war in Iraq has not provided the same sort of spark to the disaster recovery industry that the terrorist hijackings provided back in 2001, said IDC analyst David Tapper. "9/11 was the big jolt. Now it's business as usual," he said. "I have not seen an impact on the business continuity market from the Iraq war."

Business continuity services saw a more concrete impact from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)--a pneumonialike disease that has especially disrupted commerce in Asia. For example, several HP customers in Singapore sent employees to work in an HP disaster recovery facility, as a way to mitigate the risk that their own office might be quarantined.

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