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When Hurricane Katrina bulldozed into the Gulf Coast in August 2005, its devastating repercussions were felt in many more places than Mississippi, Louisiana and the neighborhoods all across the country where thousands of evacuees had to relocate.

Enterprise executives around the nation and the world winced at the destruction the storm brought to New Orleans and surrounding cities and towns and took it as a warning: A natural disaster like Katrina, an earthquake, a tsunami, a terrorist attack or other cataclysmic event could end a business in the twinkling of an eye if no workable backup plan is in place to keep the IT system running and the data safe and secure.

The National Football League’s New Orleans Saints were a prime example. The team’s home stadium, the Superdome, was severely damaged by the storm, with portions of the roof simply blown away.

Click here to read more about cyber-looters who capitalized on Hurricane Katrina.

The structure ended up serving as a temporary shelter to thousands of residents who lost their homes in the flooding that followed the storm. The Saints had to move their home games to Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio, Texas, that season.

Fortunately, the team had its business data backed up and archived at its home office, which was not seriously damaged. But had the hurricane destroyed the offices and knocked out the IT system, the team might have suffered more costly losses.

Next Page: Ravens get a makeover.

Ravens Get a Makeover

As a result of Hurricane Katrina, the NFL offered a workshop on disaster preparedness for its teams after the 2005 season. The NFL recommended each team update its disaster contingency and recovery plans with data replication and off-site storage solutions. All the teams assessed their IT disaster preparedness and either upgraded or fine-tuned their systems.

The Baltimore Ravens, whose home city is located in an area on the Eastern seaboard that could very well be hit by a hurricane, decided to do more than just fine-tune their own storage shop. They opted for a complete makeover. A bold decision was made: The club would not handle any of its data on-site anymore.

The Ravens decided to outsource the care and keeping of all its business information, including customer, sales, human resources, accounting, e-mail, and document data—everything except the stacks of videotapes the coaches use to evaluate talent and prepare for future opponents.

In October 2006, the Ravens entrusted their mountain of business information to online storage and security specialist AmeriVault, of Waltham, Mass. The Ravens now simply pay a monthly fee for the service based on the number of gigabytes being stored.

To read more about companies that don’t want to outsource their storage, click here.

Gone are the tape backup machines that used to archive everything in-house until an armored truck would come and transport tape cassettes to a secure off-site location—sometimes never to be seen or used again.

To the naked eye, nothing has changed in the Ravens’ offices. Staff members and coaches still use their desktop and laptop computers to sign up new season-ticket holders, deal with the media, communicate with potential draft choices, produce payroll, pay contractors and handle all the other day-to-day duties of running a professional football franchise.

Nonetheless, AmeriVault has completely changed the way data is handled and stored within the franchise.

As a provider of managed online backup, e-mail archiving and recovery solutions, AmeriVault has clients in 44 states and 14 countries.

The company delivers services under stringent security controls and employs 24/7 system monitoring; redundant firewalls; dual-access circuits; and replicated, remote storage vaults for high-service availability. AmeriVault has four offices and five data vault centers around the United States.

Next Page: Risky business?

Risky Business?

On the surface, it appears that the franchise is taking a radical risk, allowing a service provider (in another state, no less) to handle the storage and archiving of the crown jewels of any company’s operation: its business data.

“Of course, it’s a little bit of a risk,” Bill Jankowski, senior director of IT for the Ravens, told eWEEK. “After all, the data is in someone else’s hands, not ours. But they know exactly how to handle digital data; they handle data every day for a lot of customers. And for the last few months, we’ve haven’t had any problems to speak of, so … so far, so good.”

It’s true that none of that digital data is physically housed in the Ravens’ headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., where the team maintains its executive offices and practice facility.

But nothing has changed for the people who work with the data every day. Each evening after the close of business, all new information that came into the Ravens’ office during the previous 24 hours is backed up through the AmeriVault system at one of the company’s server farms, which are under 24-hour high security.

“Dealing with tape backup and archiving was time-consuming and resource-intensive,” Jankowski said. “It was just really slow going trying to find a document or e-mail from the past, while waiting for the right spot in the archive tape to come up. This way, the retrieval process is much quicker, almost instantaneous, because everything is housed on disk, not tape.”

Read more here about secure tape backup options.

A recent survey by The InfoPro, in New York, found that nearly 20 percent of Fortune 1000 companies outsource at least some portion of their daily storage load. Forty-two percent of survey respondents outsource e-mail archiving, and about 30 percent outsource daily backup files. A year ago, these numbers were in the single digits.

Next Page: Immediate benefits

Immediate Benefits

It didn’t take Jankowski long to see the benefits of going completely online for the team’s data storage and archiving. “While we were trucking our tapes to an off-site location, it was not as secure or as far enough away from potential danger as we wanted it to be,” he said.

“In addition, the amount of time and resources the backup and recovery process took was a constant source of frustration,” Jankowski said. “With AmeriVault, backup and recovery is effortless and accurate. We don’t even think about the daily backup because it happens automatically, and when we need to do a recovery, it’s fast, and all of our data is there.”

AmeriVault’s system is completely automated, delivering what the company calls “disciplined” backup and advanced recovery services designed for organizations unable to tolerate data loss or downtime.

“With off-site storage, our expert technical support and advanced recovery services, organizations can focus on core competencies, knowing that they are fully protected,” AmeriVault Vice President Jeff Meisner said.

AmeriVault redundantly backs up all its data and spreads it around to various locations within its own storage network—to back itself up—so that a client’s data is never located all in one place. “We never even look at a client’s data,” Meisner said. “We’re just concerned with the metadata and that [each entry] gets backed up and archived correctly and is easy to access in the future.”

AmeriVault’s managed solutions include online data backup and recovery, e-mail archiving, and real-time replication that deliver total automation, maximum security and regulatory compliance.

Market research companies such as IDC, Gartner and Enterprise Strategy Group estimate that 80 percent of the costs associated with an IT system occur after implementation, in the form of technical training, support, repairs and upgrades. Thus, it is important for enterprises to plan ahead for these types of expenses by building them into the organizations’ cost analyses, analysts say.

“This same rule holds true for data protection and disaster recovery,” said Meisner. “Backup costs are more than just the sticker price of the hardware and software. One has to examine the TCO [total cost of ownership] with regard to the many facets of data protection.”

These items include such things as speed of recovery and risk mitigation, Meisner said. “These are ‘hard dollar’ figures that are easily quantified,” he said. “This model does not take into account any ‘soft dollar’ costs, such as risk, regulatory scrutiny, employee morale, work environment, travel time and expenses, delays in key project timelines, diverted resources, and public image/goodwill.”

Pricing for AmeriVault’s online storage, data recovery and compliance service varies depending on the amount of data, how much data needs to be retained, how well data compresses, the rate of daily change and the length of the agreement. Thus, the following monthly fees are in a rough order of magnitude: less than 30GB: $16 per gigabyte; 30GB to 60GB: $14 per gigabyte; 60GB to 90GB: $12 per gigabyte; 90GB to 300GB: $10 per gigabyte; and more than 300GB: $8 per gigabyte.

The Ravens’ most recent monthly bill was for 220GB of storage, Jankowski said. Although he didn’t give a dollar figure, it’s easy enough to do the math and see that the entire storage bill for the Ravens is probably less than $2,500 per month.

“That price does sound reasonable, and it would cost a company a lot more than that to hire someone to manage the storage [in-house],” said Dianne McAdam, an analyst at The Clipper Group, in Wellesley, Mass.

Compared with conventional storage systems that can easily quadruple that total in monthly costs, is online storage something a small or midsize business or an enterprise IT manager should consider?

“We haven’t used the system long enough to come right out and recommend it for anybody just yet,” Jankowski said. “But, man, it’s easy and reliable, and we haven’t had any problems yet. It’s been just great so far.”

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