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Outsourcing speeds up law firm's due backup process

If there's any legacy for IT in last fall's horrifying events, it was the complete demise of denial and the mentality of "it can't happen here."

For many IT departments, daily backup was a cursory element on it's "to do" list. While sensitized to the perils of disasters -- natural and manmade -- executive management resisted spending to make backup and recovery of enterprise resources more resilient and instantaneous.

But for Farrell Fritz, P.C., a 200-person law firm in Uniondale, N.Y., the tragedies were a call to action, according to Stan Ercolano, director of IT. "September 11 was the flash point for disaster recovery for us," he said. "At that time we were only doing tape backup and offsite storage, and we knew that wasn't sufficient to protect the firm."

The firm has 21 servers among its three locations on Long Island and needed about 80G Bytes of storage capacity. Ercolano said the firm's most mission critical applications are its document management system from Hummingbird called DOCS Open, as well as e-mail. In addition, the firm's areas of practice, corporate banking, real estate and land use among others, have their own unique applications residing privately on various servers. Some of the apps require interfaces between servers, so there was the added complexity of ensuring that these functions and servers were all in sync.

Farrell's last requirement for a new backup and recovery plan ensured that any responding vendor would have to be creative

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and not resort to a one-size-fits-all approach. "I added the requirement to keep what we have now," said Ercolano, especially after getting the lowdown on one solution with a $200,000 price tag. "What we have now is low cost, it works and it's viable."

After narrowing the field to three possibilities, Farrell opted for LiveVault Online Backup Service from Marlborough, Mass.-based LiveVault Corp. The vendor's partners, Houston-based Compaq Computer Corp. and Boston-based Iron Mountain Inc. gave LiveVault a bit more gravitas than it would have had it been the sole source, Ercolano said.

Using its own T1 lines and a LiveVault software agent on its servers, Farrell configured its backup of program files and operating system for once a day, while its document data is backed up real-time.

"We tried to break the LiveVault server on a six-week test by copying a 3M Byte file to their server and immediately deleting it," Ercolano said. Their test failed, but that was good news. LiveVault's packet-forwarding had managed to copy the 3M Byte file to its offsite backup server anyway.

While LiveVault's features and functions were robust and straightforward, its pricing was not, Ercolano said. "The most difficult part of developing a relationship with LiveVault was understanding their pricing," he said, which boils down to a list price of $50/G Byte of storage per month. The longer the term of the contract, the more that list price gets negotiated down. Farrell's final cost for its first year came to about $40,000, Ercolano added.

"Law firms are very spending-conscious, and it ended up costing about $42 per attorney per month to protect the firm's intellectual property," Ercolano said of his ROI calculations. By adding in all staff, including attorneys, the monthly price per employee drops to $18.

Companies of all sizes increasingly find those prices acceptable, according to Ruth Chatterton, senior consultant for TeleChoice Inc., Tulsa, Okla., especially since last fall. While backup and disaster recovery has mostly been associated with the Fortune 500 level enterprises, the willingness to spend on it is moving down the food chain.

"We're seeing smaller enterprises that didn't think they'd be a target take a much greater interest in backup and recovery than before," she said. Larger companies can buy and build a second or third data center, spending millions in the process. But medium-sized business like Farrell are finding it's cheaper to outsource than to build, Chatterton said, and that's where much of the growth in the $10 billion storage services market will come.

For more information on Live Vault take a look at their Web site

For additional information on Farrell Fritz, P.C. visit their Web site

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    This was first published in July 2002

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