With Fabian near, company turned to e-mail backup

As Hurricane Fabian approached Bermuda late last week, reinsurance company Max Re in the city of Hamilton prepared itself by quickly setting up an emergency email system in case the storm decimated its communications systems.

Using Emergency Messaging System software from MessageOne in Austin, Max Re had backup email capabilities set up for its 52 users in only a few hours and was ready for the storm. Fabian caused extensive damage on the island but never completely knocked out Max Re's email services.

Even though the backup email service wasn't needed this time, it's nice having it as a standby, said Kevin Lohan, vice president of technology and systems at Max Re.

"Fabian came in at quite an inopportune moment," Lohan said, noting that Max Re was still several months away from completing and implementing a top-to-bottom disaster recovery strategy. Max Re is setting up the disaster recovery system in its Dublin offices for redundancy. But even when it's completed, the system will take 12 to 24 hours to get up and running in an emergency.

While other critical business systems can sometimes wait that long for use, email has to be back up much faster so business can proceed, Lohan said.

The MessageOne EMS software is a Linux-based product that backs up users' address books, contact lists and other critical information to provide instant emergency access if the main email system goes down because of an emergency or natural disaster, said Mike Rosenfelt, vice president of marketing at MessageOne. The service is accessible from any Web browser anywhere, so if the software is turned on in an emergency, incoming and outgoing email is available to all users, without any lag.

"They can continue to work," Rosenfelt said. The service doesn't back up all of the old email, cutting out large expenses for storage and bandwidth. Instead, EMS provides the contact lists and addresses and a place to reliably have access to email during an emergency, he said. "It's a life-support system until you can go to recovery," Rosenfelt said.

The backup email systems are set up for clients in disaster recovery facilities around the globe.

The software can also be configured to send email or text messages to users notifying them that the main email system is down in an emergency so they can log into the EMS service online.

"When you need it, it's invaluable," said Max Re's Lohan. "I certainly felt a lot more confident that even if the Bermuda office was not reachable, traveling executives and the remote office in Dublin would have appeared to be conducting business as usual."

Dan Ryan, IT manager at Young Broadcasting , a New York-based TV station chain, said he had MessageOne service running during the blackout in New York last month, adding that it worked as advertised for his 74 users. "We had a great experience with them when the blackout occurred," Ryan said. "There was really no downtime with email. It was fantastic."

Pricing for EMS runs between 80 cents and US$8 per user per month, depending on the number of users.

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