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Storm airs disaster recovery services

As Hurricane Isabel continues to make its presence felt, some companies are turning to new disaster recovery tools to ensure their servers are up and running.

As Dan Roche, CEO of E.magination Network, drives to his office, the street lights and all other forms of electrical power appear to be out.

Roche's BlackBerry pager, however, shows new e-mail, and the executive is confident that his company's servers are up and running.

Hurricane Isabel is still making its presence felt on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore, where E.magination has its headquarters. In fact, Roche estimated that the walls of his company's office are roughly 15 feet from the water. As the massive storm slowly moves up the coastline, it's driving the bay and other bodies of water well above normal levels.

"Three months ago, I'd be in panic mode right now," Roche said. "But seeing this e-mail lets me know that we're up and running. I'm just not sure where."

E.magination, a visual design and information technology consulting firm, is relying on a disaster recovery tool from Evergreen Assurance to stay up and running. Evergreen's "failover" system for Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers automatically replicates E.magination's e-mail servers at an off-site location. E.magination is one of the seven companies piloting the continuous data recovery service.

Before E.magination signed up for the Evergreen service, it relied on traditional recovery plans, including storage backup software distributed throughout the company's different locations. While Roche hasn't eliminated those contingency tools yet, he said he intends to do so in about a year.

"My IT guys are asking me why we still operate those systems, and I'm running out of good reasons to do it," he said.

Mike Mulholland, Evergreen's founder and vice chairman, is familiar with the technologies that have traditionally been used by businesses to protect their systems and data in foul weather. As former CEO of the recovery services unit of SunGard Data Systems, Mulholland saw firsthand what many of the largest financial companies in the world were doing to protect their IT networks.

"For a long time, we've had disaster recovery plans based on the insurance model. If you wanted to get systems back online, you tried to move everything to a whole new location. It was like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again," he said. "We're offering real-time data replication via dedicated equipment; this is guaranteed access."

Evergreen for Exchange, which officially becomes available Monday, goes into effect at the push of a button by a customer, or through what it refers to as "smart agents," database monitoring tools that look for irregular demand patterns or performance in a customer's systems and automatically begin replication processes. The agents are triggered by a number of internal or external events such as power outages or even irregular user behavior, according to Mulholland.

He said Evergreen's customers praised the service after wrestling with last month's multi-state blackout and viruses such as Sobig.

Analysts were quick to point out that off-site recovery systems are nothing new but that Evergreen's Exchange angle does offer a valuable service that has been underserved. Mike Kahn, an analyst at The Clipper Group, said Windows-oriented disaster recovery tools have good prospects for the future.

"With every event like (Isabel), companies are considering taking more of their data off-site," he said. "Services to do this in the Windows world have been less common, so you would think there would be interest."

Kahn said small and midsize businesses in particular are hungry for newer, less-expensive ways to increase recovery capabilities.

For E.magination's Roche, the morning has gotten off to an unusual start, but he's happy that the company remains in touch both with its internal systems and with customers via e-mail.

"I'm literally dead in the water without Exchange," Roche said.