Certifiable Customers

FRAMINGHAM (03/06/2000) - The company: Verisign Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., supplier of online digital certificates, with 400 employees.

The data problem: Verisign servers must be available around the clock to handle requests for certificate authentication from customers who need such approvals to offer secure transactions at their Web sites. Corporate customers such as Ford Motor Co. and Hewlett-Packard Co. buy groups of certificates for internal security.

Reliability is mission-critical. "I think we realized it was a requirement of doing business," says John Ferguson, Verisign's director of production services. "Companies are outsourcing a part of their IT business to us," so strong assurance of around-the-clock availability "is critical to getting them to sign a contract," he says. In fact, it's specified in service-level agreements.

The solution: A "hot site" at an undisclosed East Coast location maintained by Comdisco Continuity Services provides the duplicated data and systems Verisign would need to stay online in case a disaster hit Mountain View. An Advanced Recovery Site (ARS) - actually a 215-sq.-ft. caged area at Comdisco's site - stores relevant data and what Ferguson calls "long lead-time" services:

Internet service provider connections and links to merchants that would be hard to quickly restore. "It's a scaled-down, more consolidated view of our services," he says. An Oracle8.15 utility writes database transaction logs to the ARS, and NSI Software's Double-Take replicates only the data that has changed, saving on network bandwidth costs.

Staff at a nearby Verisign office were trained to perform the company's elaborate "key ceremonies" and other security safeguards. Comdisco also maintains a site that could take over Verisign's customer-service functions.

"It's not an instant recovery," Ferguson says. "There is an element of manual changeover."

The results: After a monumental effort to set up the admittedly complex operation, Verisign hasn't had to use the ARS. "But I think we can sleep at night," Ferguson says.

Deloitte Fights Drive Crashes in Big Notebook FleetThe company: Deloitte & Touche, a Big Five accounting firm based in New York.

The Data Problem: Senior PC LAN Technician Gino Ahn manages data recovery services for the firm's 3,500-plus notebook PCs, many of which hold hard-to-replace accounting information collected at client sites and entered in customized auditing software with complex links to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. About every three weeks, a laptop (usually a standard-issue Toshiba Tecra 8000) has a data recovery problem that Ahn is called on to solve.

"It's usually the hard drive that goes bad," says Ahn, adding that desktop drives fail at a much slower rate of approximately one per year.

The Solution: The company has a service contract with Ontrack Data International. Ontrack charges $500 to $1,500 to recover data from drives shipped to its laboratories. Estimates cost approximately $100.

"Before they proceed with any recovery, they get back to us with costs and a list of the data that can be recovered," Ahn says.

Rescued files are returned within days on CD-ROMs shipped via overnight mail.

Deloitte's information technology staff must then reintegrate the files, which depend heavily on a special index file and linked libraries for their operation.

The Results: "There are some occasions where the data can't be recovered," Ahn says, but at least two-thirds of the time, the paying department opts for a full recovery effort, and 80 percent or more of the data is typically recovered.

Ahn says that in addition to saving in labor costs that would have been spent recreating the data, an accountant's sanity is often rescued. One recently needed a two-day turnaround to get data back in time for the weekend, when he planned to work feverishly to meet a deadline. Ahn says the $4,000 bill was worth every penny.

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More about ARSComdiscoDeloitte & ToucheFord MotorHewlett-Packard AustraliaMicrosoftNSI SoftwareOntrack Data InternationalToshibaVeriSign Australia

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