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These disaster recovery services for SMBs include an on-site trailer

An IT services company that serves businesses with 10 to 250 employees can draw up a DR plan that includes pulling up a mobile office trailer if your site goes dark. Here's how.

Editor's Note: In this installment of our series on disaster recovery services for businesses with about 200 employees, we talk to an IT services company about its range of offerings.

Staples Network Services (SNS) by Thrive is an IT services company that provides outsourced IT services, including disaster recovery services, to organizations with 10 to 250 employees. As with the large service providers, the customer's recovery time objective (RTO) and the size of an organization dictate the cost of DR. Putting together a plan typically takes between 20 and 30 hours and costs between $4,000 and $7,000, said Jim Lippie, president of the Concord, Mass.-based provider, which was founded in 2000 and acquired by office giant Staples in 2006.

By contrast, we were told that an IBM consulting engagement for such services might be a two-week project and range from a few thousand dollars to $25,000, depending on the duration of the project.

The planning effort with SNS requires up to 20 hours of participation from the organization's business leaders and an analysis of its key operational procedures, such as payroll processing, accounts payable, new client order processing and so on, to determine which systems and applications are most critical to business survival. Once the client's plan is done, SNS keeps the documentation (configurations, images of servers and other machines).

Then it's on to service selection. The most expensive and powerful disaster recovery services plan it offers locally re-creates all the capabilities that were lost. SNS accomplishes this through a partnership with Charlotte, N.C.-based Agility Recovery Solutions Inc. (a former GE unit), which will show up within 48 hours with a trailer equipped with Internet access, satellite phones, workstations and meeting rooms -- a full mobile office suite. Servers can be shipped overnight. "We cover the IT side of it and Agility covers the physical side," Lippie said.

Lippie said his firm will restore from tape or use the much preferred option, online vaulting. SNS resells an online vaulting product, which uses EVault software on the back end and is supplied by partner Venyu Solutions Inc. The service is priced on a (compressed) gigabyte basis. Depending on the volume, the price ranges from $3 to $5 per compressed gigabyte.

SNS simulated a disaster last fall in its parking lot using Agility's Ready Suite. "We put our employees out in the trailer with the satellite phones and Internet connectivity and invited clients to view the plan," Lippie said. Fees for a full-suite, 48-person trailer run $750 per month -- essentially a reservation fee. In the case of disaster, small and medium-sized businesses pay Agility to deliver the trailer and set it up; in some cases an SMB's insurance company takes care of that cost. "At that point, it is worth every penny."

Yet, only a handful of the clients who file a disaster recovery (DR) plan with SNS actually sign on for the Agility solution. Truth be told, of the 80% of clients that rely on SNS for their entire IT solution, only 20% sign on for DR.

"We certainly propose it to our clients; we make them realize it is an issue they need to be dealing with, but not every client decides they are going to spend the money to put together a plan," Lippie said.

So what do the majority of SMBs that rely on SNS for their IT infrastructure do in the event of a disaster? There are many cheaper DR strategies -- but you get what you pay for.

Some alternatives to disaster recovery services

A 25-person organization that has worked with SNS to determine its RTO might elect to have a terminal server in a colocated facility. SNS would build and maintain the server. If something happened, employees could work from home and connect remotely to that terminal server. Some companies might choose to set up certain employees with Voice over Internet Protocol softphones.

The terminal server could also be used by mobile workforces needing 24/7 access to computing systems, Lippie noted.

Fees vary, depending on what type of server, how many licenses, etc., are purchased. A server could cost between $4,000 and $7,000, Lippie said. He declined to quote a cost for licenses, because of the fluctuations in pricing. SNS labor to build and configure the terminal server costs between $5,000 to $10,000.

In the event of a disaster or outage, relying on a terminal server can work for companies set up to function with remote employees, Lippie said. But for other businesses, it could spell disaster if other business continuity measures are not established in advance. "You have no central place to meet, everyone is on cell phones. It is certainly not efficient," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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