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Disaster industry finds silver lining

Though war in Iraq and the SARS outbreak didn't produce the spike in business that disaster recovery companies might have expected, the future looks brighter.

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 health care 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 $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 $3.0 billion in 2001 to $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 $29.9 billion in 2001 to $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 Sept. 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 center...and the technology (anymore)," McAnally said. "It's also focused on the people."

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

More important catalysts for the disaster recovery services field may lie beyond the headlines. Other reasons for disaster recovery spending stem from government efforts to regulate the healthcare and financial services industries.

Recent rules related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act call for businesses to make continuity arrangements, according to McAnally. In addition, a white paper published jointly last month by the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Securities and Exchange Commission aimed at strengthening the resilience of the U.S. financial system could drive financial institutions to take precautions.

Among other things, the white paper says certain financial services organizations should develop the capacity to recover and resume operations within the business day that a significant disruption occurs and with "the overall goal of achieving recovery and resumption within two hours after an event."

The report should make the issue of disaster recovery an even higher priority in the financial services world, McAnally said. "It's certainly going to generate attention," she said. "In most cases, attention generally translates to spending."