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During its 30-year history, Mars Advertising Group, a 250-person business specializing in brand marketing for consumer-packaged-goods companies, had endured its share of surprises.

But Bill Davidson, Mars’ CIO, was not ready for the phone call he got on the morning of Feb. 20, when he learned that Mars’ corporate headquarters, in Southfield, Mich., had been destroyed by fire and heavy smoke.

“My CFO [chief financial officer] called me when I was commuting in. She said it was pretty bad, and the building was already gutted,” said Davidson. “It was pretty much a total internal fire at our home office in an overnight period. The bricks are left standing and not much else.”

Even as fire department personnel were snuffing out the blaze—believed to have been caused by an electrical problem—Davidson was pulling aside fellow Mars executives appearing on the scene. The group huddled into action not far from the smoldering ruins with a determination to keep the business running smoothly despite the hardware and data loss.

Click here to read a column on disaster recovery by’s Editor in Chief, Eric Lundquist.

“We had to pretty much build from the ground up, and it was basically, ‘Let’s go and get started right now,’” said Davidson. “We sat down in an adjacent building and started a plan for what we were going to do. It involved finding a space to go to, contacting CDW [Corp.] and knowing what core equipment we had to replace and get that sent right away.”

The group found new office space just down the street from the destroyed headquarters, and as for the data and equipment, turning to CDW, the company’s technology supplier, was a no-brainer. The Vernon Hills, Ill., distributor offers a wide range of products and accompanying services from companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. of America and Toshiba America Inc.

Next Page: The Recovery Process

That smoky Friday morning, CDW didn’t disappoint. Officials were on the scene and by the following Monday morning, CDW had replaced all Mars’ servers and end-user PCs and reinstalled the network without a glitch.

At the heart of the recovery process was Mars’ off-site single-tape Sony S-AIT drive backup system, which Davidson employed CDW to help facilitate one month before the fire. Davidson had upgraded from an on-site tape library. Going forward, CDW is helping Mars plan to move from tape-based backup to hot-site replication using HP technology.

With existing data in hand, CDW was ready to deliver new servers and desktops. But that’s not all. The company was also ready to help Davidson design a brand-new server room, among other upgrades.

All that work fell partly on the shoulders of Brad Bellew, a storage systems engineer at CDW. “We got a wish list from Bill. [We asked], ‘If you had your dream environment, what would that include?’” said Bellew. “From our view, that meant what applications are critical, what could be deployed faster and what did we have in stock that could be delivered on Saturday to start rebuilding the data center.”

For example, Mars decided to consolidate its servers from 45 to 15. Davidson estimates the move will save the company about $250,000. As a bonus, it allowed the agency to boost the speed of setting up an identical new virtual server via EMC Corp.’s VMware technology.

CDW shipped HP servers, some 250 HP desktops and 50 Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh systems to Mars, and they were installed with the assistance of CDW over the weekend.

Soon to follow was Internet connectivity, Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory coming online, and eventually the rebuilding of file servers against tape and reconstruction of the agency’s SAN (storage area network).

Despite a minimal data loss after the local power company blew a transformer and abruptly shut off power to Mars shortly after the rebuild, Davidson credits his company’s impressive turnaround after the fire to CDW’s decisiveness.

“The bulk of everything we needed came that weekend immediately. We had a plan, and CDW came through. It was the best IT experience I’ve had in my career,” Davidson said.

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