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Katrina Teaches Hard IT Lessons

Many companies rely heavily on off-site, vault-type storage to safeguard their backup tapes and paper records. Document-storage vendors such as Iron Mountain maintain vault facilities across the country. But more than a week after the passing of Hurricane Katrina, Iron Mountain had limited access to only three of its four New Orleans area vaults and was still assessing the possible damage to customer content. If Katrina teaches a lesson, it's that users should store backup data not only off-site, but completely out of the geographic region.

There are lots of choices for this type of data storage. At the high end, vendors like Hewlett-Packard provide "business continuity service," designed not only to let a company save its data off-site, but also to give it access to regional centers where workers can do their regular jobs on alternate equipment.

Even small businesses can take precautions to store data remotely. If you're a lone-wolf operator, online services such as @Backup may be enough. Or you can simply mail a CD of your QuickBooks files once a month to your maiden aunt three states away.

For the midrange business, it's a question of geography. If your business has only one site, a third-party service is usually the way to go. If you have locations in more than one region, you can roll your own solution using site-to-site replication and backup. Several vendors, including Tivoli and LiveVault, are introducing a mix of automated backup products and services.

Whatever you choose, give up the idea of "set it and forget it." Backup systems and disaster-recovery plans must be constantly monitored and tested in different scenarios. Just ask any business that operates on the Gulf Coast.