In Case of Emergency

New technology, and new threats, have businesses reexamining how they cope with disaster.

In early September 2001, after a six-month process, management at HarbourVest ditched its in-house tape backup, choosing instead to send the data from its 15 servers over the Internet to a remote site. The company stores 100 gigabytes of data at the site, and about half of that is base data; that is, financial records, agreements, and the like. The information, which is backed up nightly, is retained for several months. In case of an outage necessitating a massive restore, Christy says vendor AmeriVault could cut the data to tape and get it to her in around two hours.

The real selling point of the Web-based service, however, is that employees can retrieve lost or zapped data simply by going online. “The most common problem we have is people deleting files,” explains Christy. “It takes 50 percent longer to restore a file using the tape-backup method.”

Scrambling through reams of old tape can certainly be a laborious process. Worse, tapes and other backup media are notoriously unreliable. Experts say data gets easily corrupted, and often tape backups just plan fail. “Half the time, zip drives and tapes don’t restore,” insists Wally Beddoe, vice president of operations in the Stamford, Connecticut office of Telekurs Financial. “They can be a big waste of time.”

To address that issue, management at the Swiss-owned supplier of financial data hired a Framingham, Massachusetts-based vendor called Connected Corp. It provides a back-up service that safeguards Telekurs Financial’s distributed data — information not stored on network servers. While Telekurs does back up its commercial data to a remote site in Hartford, employees rely on their PC hard drives to store tons of information — contracts, E-mail, even application code. “All the stuff to support our business is on PCs,” says CFO Mike Stisi. Moreover, Telekurs has an increasing number of employees, including programmers, who work remotely. “The stuff they have on their PCs is scary,” notes Stisi. “It’s hundreds of man-hours’ worth of work.”

The finance chief can attest to just how valuable the company’s new retrieval system is. In December 2002, Stisi came to the office only to discover that the hard drive on his computer had failed. “When my hard drive died, I almost had a heart attack,” he recalls. “Duplicating the information, including customers and contracts, would have been a huge headache.”

Using the retrieval service, Stisi recovered his files in a matter of minutes. Since signing on with Connected, he says he hasn’t had to worry about failed hard drives and flat-line laptops. This, of course, raises the obvious question: Why is the company finance chief involved in such mundane matters as lost Excel files — matters usually left to CIOs and system administrators? “As the CFO, I’m responsible for protecting our assets,” explains Stisi. “My neck and the CEO’s are on the line.”

Didn’t Think of That One

Before Y2K and 9/11, most finance chiefs were woefully ignorant about the value of digital assets. Even today, few know the difference between a Bernoulli Box and a Bento Box. But with new threats — including terrorist attacks, computer viruses, and infrastructure failures — many CFOs are beginning to at least sit in on disaster-recovery meetings. “Some CFOs perceive disaster recovery as a sunk cost,” says Gary Foster, CTO at Boston-based trade-management services provider Omgeo LLC. “But you have to think worst-case once in a while.”

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