Verio outages show need for customer backup plan: Data is considered as much an asset as a factory

Before trusting your data and your Web site to an application service provider or Web hoster, make sure you've got a backup plan.

That's the advice from a number of users and analysts after thousands of e-commerce sites were taken offline and some destroyed altogether by unrelated outages at two Verio data centres.

While Verio is a large player in this space, businesses and analysts agree the company's size is no guarantee of service.

Bob Zimmerman, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said customers should carefully check their contracts with service providers.

"If you're not making [backups] a contractual requirement and periodically demanding proof . . . then you, as a corporate officer, are negligent," Zimmerman said.

In some jurisdictions, data is considered as much an asset as a factory, Zimmerman said, and a company may have legal recourse to recover damages in much the same way it would if one of its capital assets were destroyed.

The contract, however, doesn't always guarantee protection.

"Having seen a number of vendor contracts," Zimmerman said, "I would bet next week's salary if you signed a vendor contract, it says he's responsible for nothing."

While large companies and resellers may have the leverage to demand guarantees, Zimmerman said, "probably the little guy is going to lose out".

Many companies go with an application service provider (ASP) to cut costs and headaches, but protecting their data or their Web sites may be worth the cost of having backup plans, said Rich Ptak, an analyst at Hurwitz Group.

"If it's a significant revenue source, [customers] should look at themselves or a backup supplier" to keep a site up if an ASP or Web hoster fails, Ptak said.

It's shortsighted to expect Verio and other similar companies to take the sole responsibility for a company's backup, said Randy Kerns, an analyst at Evaluator Group.

When looking under the hood of an ASP, uptime is a key indicator of performance, an executive at software vendor Legato Systems said.

While an ASP may tell you that it has 99.99 per cent, or even 99.999 per cent, uptime, that doesn't necessarily tell the whole story, said Frank Sowin, director of the service provider business unit at Legato. That's because uptime "does not measure application response time.

"It doesn't necessarily measure application availability.

"It does not measure server availability, and so those are all important", Sowin said.

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