The increasingly business-critical nature of email is prompting some companies to take backup measures specifically designed to retain access to their email systems in the event of a disaster.
Reinsurance company Max Re in Hamilton, Bermuda, had taken such measures before Hurricane Fabian hit the island earlier this month. And online business publication Forbes.com in New York was prepared when the massive blackout struck the Northeast last month. But the two companies took dramatically different approaches to the problem.
Max Re took a bare-bones, software-centric route, using the Emergency Messaging System (EMS) backup application from Austin-based MessageOne. The software enabled the company to set up backup email capabilities for 52 users in only a few hours, said Kevin Lohan, vice president of technology and systems at Max Re.
"Fabian came in at quite an inopportune moment," Lohan said, noting that the company was still several months away from fully plotting its disaster recovery strategy.
Max Re is setting up a disaster recovery system in its Dublin offices for redundancy. But even when it's completed, the system will take 12 to 24 hours to go live in an emergency, Lohan said. While Max Re's other critical business systems might be able to wait that long, email has to be back up much faster, Lohan said.
MessageOne EMS is Linux-based software that backs up users' address books, contact lists and other critical information to provide instant access in an emergency if the main email system goes down, said Mike Rosenfelt, a MessageOne spokesman. That data is hosted on MessageOne's servers and can be accessed from any Internet-connected PC.
The service doesn't back up old email, cutting expenses for storage and bandwidth. "It's a life-support system until you can go to recovery," said Rosenfelt. Pricing for EMS runs between 80 cents and $US8 per user per month, depending on the number of users.
Forbes.com, meanwhile, uses Microsoft Exchange backup services from Evergreen Assurance in Annapolis, Md. Its hardware-based approach provides full backup of all old messages, as well as address books and contact lists.
Evergreen uses dedicated servers that activate in 15 minutes following a service outage. These redundant email servers reside in an Evergreen data centre.
"Our customers are demanding that they have access to both their (old e-mail) and their (current email) applications," said company founder Michael Mulholland.
Michael Smith, chief technology officer at Forbes.com, said his 85 users had email capability almost immediately after the blackout hit.
Evergreen's fees begin at about $5000 monthly for 250 users and can be up to $30,000 monthly for 5000 users.
But both approaches may be overkill for some users, said Mike Gotta, an analyst at Meta Group in Pleasanton, California. "I'm not denying that email is critical communication, but so is the telephone," Gotta said.
For marketing companies or communications businesses, where "the bloodstream is information," there's a reasonable need, he said. But for manufacturing companies, getting factories up and running quickly is likely to be more critical, Gotta said.
"I'm just not sure that I'm in the camp that I can only conduct my business if I can get my email back up," he said.