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Darren McBride wanted to a make a point when he came up with a name for the backup systems he started selling last year: He named them Highly Reliable Systems.

That name, says McBride, goes to the crux of why he got into backup systems in the first place.

Four years ago, after a couple of decades as a reseller, McBride started ruminating about giving customers backup systems on which they truly could depend.

Tired of dealing with expensive tape backup equipment that used equally expensive media that never performed as advertised, he went to work on creating a system he could stand behind. The result: the industry’s first hot-swappable backup system with standard IDE hard drives converted to USB 2.0.

McBride, who is the CEO of Highly Reliable Systems and his reselling business, Sierra Computer Ltd., both based in Reno, Nev., launched the Highly Reliable brand in May 2004. Currently, Highly Reliable is bringing about $120,000 per month in revenue.

“The product really sells itself,” said McBride, who sells primarily through VARs and integrators. “Once it’s installed a few times and the VARs use it, they love it,” he said.

About 120 VARs had signed up to carry the product as of earlier this month, when McBride went to IT trade association CompTIA’s Breakaway conference in Las Vegas.

He was there to market the product and to recruit more VARs with the intent of boosting Highly Reliable’s channel coverage to the full 50 states from the current 42.

Customers can buy Highly Reliable systems from the company’s Web site. But as a longtime reseller McBride knows the importance of eliminating the potential for conflict between channel and direct sales.

“I want to take the retail prices completely off our Web site,” he said.

In the last six months, 85 percent of sales went through the channel, but McBride hopes that will change this quarter to more than 90 percent.

Highly Reliable needs resellers because they are the best qualified to reach the small business customers with 50 to 60 seats for which the company’s backup systems are ideal, McBride said.

Those customers typically have no IT staff and rely on resellers to keep their systems up and running.

“We know that without resellers, it’s a tough market. One of the things I’ve learned as a reseller for 20 years is that manufacturers are somewhat cutthroat,” he said.

In his efforts to recruit resellers, McBride said the company occasionally has given qualified sales leads to resellers in a state where Highly Reliable has no channel coverage. Some of those resellers, appreciative of the unexpected sales, have returned to Highly Reliable to buy more product.

“The resellers jump on these leads because manufacturers never call them and offer them something like that out of the blue,” he said.

Andy Goodman, owner of DownHome Computers, of Kernersville, N.C., saw the Highly Reliable machines at a conference in California about a month ago and decided to order a demo unit.

After testing the system, Goodman placed his first order, three units he is reselling as backups for small business servers.

“I have been moving away from tape for the last year, using different external USB drives,” he said. “This is the first USB system I have seen, as opposed to a standalone drive, and so far I really like it. It also looks like a professional device rather than something that you ran down to the corner PC shop and bought.”

Highly Reliable systems come in configurations of one-, five- and seven-bay units with removable hard drives. It was important to make the drives removable because true backup involves taking the data off-site, which has been one of the selling points of tape.

McBride said part of his mission is to disabuse people of the idea that hard drives are not solid enough for the job.

“We try to debunk the fragility common notion that hard drives are these incredibly fragile devices,” he said.

To drive the point home, McBride said he dropped a hard drive from the roof of his building and it still worked. But a tape that is dropped from six feet becomes unusable, he said.

He is so passionately anti-tape that he has launched a Web site, called, to steer potential buyers away from tape backups.

“We had one [tape] customer that went out of business,” McBride said. The customer, which molded sheet metal for slot machines, lost an entire dataset and was unable to restore it because the backup system had stopped working a year earlier and nobody noticed.

“That’s just one customer that I can remember that was particularly traumatic,” McBride said.

McBride said recent advances in technology, such as the performance improvements of USB 2.0, make it possible to create low-cost backup systems that will deliver acceptable speeds.

“We knew we had to strike a balance between speed and price,” he said.

One Highly Reliable customer wrote to the company saying he paid about $2,000 for a system that would have cost him twice as much as if he had chosen a tape drive, without the media.

“Restore times are much faster. Backups are always successful,” said Rich Ellis, network systems administrator at Biosource International, of Camarillo, Calif.