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Recovery firms respond to blackout

The massive blackout prompts some companies to turn to providers of disaster recovery services, but IT operations at many businesses appear safe thanks to backup generators.

Tech Industry
Thursday's massive power outage across the Northeast led some companies to invoke their disaster recovery services.

But many businesses that have contracts with disaster recovery providers appeared not to have lost their data or applications, thanks to onsite power generators.

SunGard, which has about 7,000 disaster recovery clients in North America, said about 30 customers activated their service Thursday. But most were interested in getting access to a SunGard-provided office with electricity and PCs, said Dan Hamill, SunGard's vice president of operations. "The main services they're invoking are work-group services," he said.

Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and SunGard promise to help companies keep their data and applications running in the event of disasters such as blackouts and floods.

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.

Hewlett-Packard has hundreds of disaster recovery customers in the Northeast, but just one declared a disaster and invoked HP's service as of Thursday afternoon, said Brian Fowler, Hewlett-Packard's global director for business continuity services. "Most customers can run their IT on the backup generator for several days," Fowler said.

The one customer that's tapping HP for its service is in the process of shifting its IT operations to an HP business continuity center, Fowler said.

MessageOne, an Austin, Texas-based company, said Thursday afternoon that it was trying to restore e-mail for customers from Cleveland to New York. The company specializes in restoring e-mail service in the event of a disaster. One of the most difficult aspects of providing recovery services so far has been getting in touch with some customers, who have left their buildings, company spokesman Mike Rosenfelt said.

Right now, affected customers are being served by backup systems in Chicago, which was unaffected by the outage.

Manic Monday?
Long Island, N.Y.-based software maker Computer Associates said it doesn't have a disaster recovery services contract, but it has prepared for catastrophes by establishing its own recovery facility in the Midwest. CIO Walt Thomas said the company put employees at the remote site on alert Thursday, "but we never went into disaster recovery mode."

Thomas said a backup power system at the company's headquarters kicked in when utility-supplied power was cut off, so computer systems continued to run. But there were a couple of glitches in the wake of the blackout, he added. For example, one of six diesel generators at the headquarters failed to work. But the facility had enough power from the other five, he said, and utility power was restored to the company headquarters early Friday morning.

Computer Associates, which makes products such as data storage management and network management software, has not seen an unusual number of customer support calls, Tony Riccinto, the company's vice president of customer support, said Friday. Riccinto said a sudden power outage can corrupt databases and interrupt a system backup. Most large companies have emergency power supplies to allow for an orderly shutdown of computer systems, he said.

Given that New York Mayor Bloomberg encouraged people to stay home Friday, Riccinto said it's possible that Computer Associates will get customer support calls Monday from smaller companies "that could ride the week out and then face the music."

A backup for backups
In a report last year, market researcher IDC said the backup recovery services market would grow from $3 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, an annual growth of 12.9 percent.

David Tapper, an analyst with IDC, said a big question that's looming for many disaster recovery customers is whether their backup data systems were also knocked out by the power outage. Disaster companies have likely taken this into consideration when creating backup systems--the Northeast's massive blackout of 1965 introduced the concept of overlapping power grids--but it is the first question that will need to be answered.

HP on Wednesday introduced a product that's designed to address a regional disaster like Thursday's blackout. The "HP StorageWorks Multi-Site Disaster Tolerant Solution" typically lets customers get back on their computing feet in less than one hour, according to the company. With the product, two company sites less than 62 miles apart can mirror, or replicate, each other's data. This is designed to protect the information in case of a local disaster, with data from critical applications at one site mirrored to XP systems at the other. An XP system at a third site outside the region of the first two is also set up, in case the first two sites go down.

Other companies have worked on data replication at a distance. IBM, for example, announced an upgrade to its remote-copy technology in June.

The outage will likely give further impetus to companies to invest in disaster recovery systems, IDC's Tapper said. Disaster recovery, he noted, is often one of those services that companies contemplate but then decline to install.

After the terorrist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, "a lot of consulting went into it, but I get the feeling that a lot of it just got dropped," Tapper said. "The feeling is, it is just an exception."

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

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