EMC slams competitors for exploiting 9/11

EMC's CEO says some unscrupulous IT companies used the Sept. 11 incidents to scare potential customers into shelling out millions for disaster recovery systems.

The horrific September 11 terrorist attacks are being used as a crass marketing tool to peddle storage and business continuity systems, according to a leading industry player.

Joe Tucci, global chairman and CEO of EMC, told ZDNet Australia that the world has witnessed marketing at its worst since the attacks on New York and Washington last year, as some unscrupulous IT companies used the incidents to scare potential customers into shelling out millions for disaster recovery and business continuity systems.

Tucci claimed that EMC, which reported a US$70 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2002, had deliberately avoided using the terrorist threat as a vehicle to sign-up new customers, despite the lure of drawing a quick profit and helping to turn around what was a poor financial year for it and the majority of the IT industry.

"I was appalled to see some of our competitors using (September 11) as a marketing tool. We have done everything possible not to use it as a marketing tool," Tucci said. "I saw some ads two days later of companies hyping it up and saying 'hey, we can help you'. We've always been involved with (business continuity), but we've totally downplayed it because I can't conceive of benefiting from a tragic event like that."

Users who fall for such scare tactics, according to Tucci, are ignoring far more pressing security and traditional business-disrupting issues such as the threat from hackers, natural disasters and human error.

"We have always been pushing what we call business continuity but we still say to customers: 'if the only reason you're looking into business continuity is September 11, then you probably shouldn't be doing it. If you think your information is critical to your business and you want to protect it from the hackers, human mistakes, acts of nature, anything', there's a lot of reasons you want to make sure you have your information broken up, available and have multiple copies," he said.

However, Iomega country director Australia/New Zealand, Peter Dawson said he wasn't sure he agreed with Tucci's theory.

"It's not anything we did, but I think a lot of companies are looking for something after September 11. I agree it's distasteful, and any message you put out needs to be tasteful, but companies need to be aware that they need a disaster recovery process in place, if they haven't got one already," Dawson said. "The benefit is both ways, people are just as focussed on protecting themselves with data recovery as companies are in trying to sell it."

Thankfully, according to Tucci, many businesses haven't fallen for September 11-inspired marketing campaigns, and are evaluating their business continuity options with a level head. He said the attacks haven't prompted a direct rush in business for EMC, but they have acted as a catalyst for some previously unprepared companies to examine their planning processes.

"The real answer is no, we haven't had a flood of new business (as a result of the terrorist acts). What it's done is heighten awareness. It's forced companies to take a really serious look (at disaster planning). Based on that really serious incident, I think you'll see a lot more done over time. But companies are acting very rationally; they're not just rushing in doing crazy things and I think that's good," he explained.

"If companies are only doing it to protect themselves from incidents like September 11, I think they're missing the issue. Most significant business disruptions are caused by human error. Second is followed by cyber terrorism. No matter how much you train them, people are going to do stupid things."

Far more dangerous a threat, Tucci said, are the cyber-terrorists who have stepped-up their activities in the months since September.

"(Hacking) has become sport now--organized sport through terrorist groups as well as just high school kids getting together for a lark and trying to disrupt your information. More and more attention is being given to (the terrorism threat) but cyber attacks are up several hundred percent since September 11. Whether they're just copycats or organised minds at work, it's a fact companies have to deal with."

Tucci said EMC has ramped-up its own security spending - both internally and for the customers whose Web services it houses - in order to head-off potential cyber-terrorist strikes, but was understandably reluctant to detail the extra precautions it is taking.