Tales from the Data Crypt

This backup service safeguards data--before your hard drive is ready for the grave.

Horror stories are the stock-in-trade for Web developers and computer help desk personnel. They are the ones who receive the frantic, middle-of-the-night calls from clients confronted with clawing scrapes and eerie screeches coming from their CPUs, or customers in equal despair wishing their system would make any sound and not just stare at them blankly upon startup, dead.

As president of NetVision Inc., Steve DeFalco was on the receiving end of those fretful, sometimes hysterical calls for more than six years, servicing people's computers remotely and walking callers through all kinds of technical scares and catastrophes. "I've seen a whole lot of crashes, believe me," he says. But one day, he was the one making the call.

Much to his disbelief, he says, he lost an external hard drive and then two internal hard drives in the span of a week. Even though he thought he had all data properly backed up, he found himself having to hire a data recovery service. More than $2,000 later, the service was able to retrieve less than half the lost data, and DeFalco was left thinking there had to be a better way.

It took a year of research and development before he had finally perfected it, he says, but the result, launched in January 2007, was Data Shield Inc. Known on the Web as eDataShield, the company immediately introduced its flagship products, backupBasic and backupPro, and soon also will offer backupWEB. As their names imply, the products enable customers quickly and easily (with one click of the mouse, in some cases) to back up their files and databases online to a remote location, where the information is kept secure and readily retrievable in the event of a disaster.

Back Up, Go Forward
Both as president of the Bellevue, Neb.-based company and as an avid technophile, DeFalco closely monitors the computer industry, particularly the growing problem of data loss. He estimates 60 percent of corporate data resides unprotected on PCs and laptops and that the lost percentage of it adds up to more than $30 billion annually. He cites studies saying that one out of 10 hard drives fails each year. He knows that roughly only one in five computer users back up their data, primarily because of the time it takes to do so--and that even among those who bother, the extent of it usually only involves burning to disks or buying external hard drives, accoutrements that are often stored on site, sometimes in the same room, sometimes even at the same desk.

"The problem with those options is that they're still susceptible to a fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, or whatever the disaster might be," DeFalco says. Add in the unnatural calamities of theft and the occasional spilled cup of coffee, and the problem is near-epidemic. The solution, DeFalco says, is to back up all you can and store the data in a secure, preferably off-site location--someplace other than the office safe. "Safes aren't safe for disks, disk drivers, any of that, because they are very, very susceptible to heat damage inside," he says, suggesting, as an alternative, eDataShield's servers in Bellevue.

For a monthly fee--starting at $4.95 for the "entry level" backupBasic and $29.95 for the browser-based backupPro--users can automatically store their data in eDataShield's vaults and retrieve it as needed. A point-in-time restore option allows retrieval of previous backup copies. The Basic version works with all Windows operating systems, and the Pro works with all Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. Both versions can back up multiple computers through a network connection and are HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley compliant, as is the Bellevue facility itself, which DeFalco describes as something on the order of Fort Knox: "It's a carrier-grade datacenter. It's got biometric scanners, 24-hour roving security guards, and an on-site police department. It's a secure location."

The real security, though, comes from the software. Before clients' data ever leaves their computers, the software compresses the information and encrypts it at whatever level they choose--up to 448-bit Blowfish encryption, which DeFalco recommends and says is three and a half times more secure than the current federal standard for online banking. "It's military strength encryption," he says. "It's the highest encryption you can get and the best protection out there."

A potential pitfall of the service is that the stored data is so protected and secure that if a customer forgets or loses the password or encryption key to retrieve it, the information is "as good as gone," as DeFalco puts it. Because the client is the sole bearer of the key, "that person is the only one who can decrypt that data--nobody else can do it, not even us," he says. "That's just part of the security feature of it."

DeFalco notes eDataShield has its share of competitors but could actually use more. "The way I look at it, the more competition that's out there, at this point anyway, the more people are hearing about the service and the more the backup industry is becoming accepted. You know, five years ago, nobody would have put anything on anybody else's computer. They just wouldn't want to do that. But now there's a need, and just hearing about it helps heighten awareness."

This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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