The problem of data protection for small and medium-sized businesses is a perplexing one. Theoretically good disaster recovery is just a few noughts on a chequebook away but what small business can afford sufficient noughts for duplicate data centres or on-line remote backup? Backing up to optical disk has consequent longevity problems. Backing up to tape is tedious, time-consuming and requires the tapes taken off-site or stored in a fire safe.

Backing up to disk is faster but the disks are attached to your sever and if a disaster knocks out your server it will also blow the disks away. What would be good would be a backup and data protection product that combined disk-to-disk (D2D) backup with fire safe protection. The DataFortress provides this. It holds one or two Western Digital drives in a Schwab fire safe fitted with a power socket and USB and FireWire data ports: it's an online fire safe.

In a disaster the fire safe should preserve the contents against fire, flood and blast damage unless extremes of heat and blast are encountered. When the disaster event is over the disk drives inside the DataFortress can be retrieved, linked to a replacement server, the data retrieved and your business can restart its IT operation. That's the theory. What's the practice?

The DataFortress comes in a small but heavy and robust cabinet. The delivery driver wheeled it in on a trolley. (We were glad not to be reviewing the enterprise version which weighs 200kg.) This is a floor-level cabinet, not a desktop one. Although it's size is microwave oven class it's weight is too much for most desks.

A single drive version weighs 26.3kg (58lbs) while a dual drive product weighs 27.7kg (61lbs). This weight is needed to offer the level of fire and blast protection needed. It can withstand a fire reaching 843 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes. That is pretty darn hot.

It has a lockable lid but the drives are underneath an inner lid which cannot be removed. People that break into your data centre cannot walk off with the drives inside it. Nor will they be inclined to pick it up.

Connecting it took just a very few minutes. Connect the power. Link it to a server with USB or FireWire and Windows plug-and-play recognises the drive(s) and there they are ready for use. A copy of Dantz Retrospect backup is supplied as well in case you have not already got D2D-capable backup software.

We configured this software and in no time had backup data sets on the drives inside the DataFortress.

DataFortress purposely doesn't inform customers about how to swap out the disks until they contact it. Their point is that everyone would buy the 120GB product, get it home, and for half the larger capacity product price, put in some 500GB drives that would put the system out of balance.

Another reason it wishes to protect that information is that, unless Western Digital drives are used, heat becomes an issue. The drives used generate very, very small amounts of heat. DataFortress spokespeople say a Seagate drive with the same capacity creates almost four times the heat. This which would kill the drives inside a DataFortress in a few months.

To remove the drives after a fire is even easier. When it is exposed to high heat, the locking mechanism melts off, but a vacuum is created by the heat (part of what keeps out all water and vapour) keeping the lid sealed. Just a whack with a hammer pops it open.

Then, just pull the drive out and it will be ready to plug in to an enclosure or bay, and the data is there. Let DataFortess know about the disaster and it promises to send the customer a brand new DataFortress.

When a drive fails, DataFortress overnight a new drive to the customer, along with instructions on how to make the swap. It's said to be actually rather easy. (We didn't check this out.)

The twin drive versions of the product can be set up to offer RAID protection, 0 and 1, thus guarding against a single drive failure in the DataFortress. This is accomplished using a supplied FWconfig software tool. Unfortunately only FireWire-connected DataFortress products can be so configured. The RAID option is not available for USB-connected versions.

DataFortress comes in capacities of 120GB, 200GB and 320GB with RAID-protected twin disk versions of the 200 and 320GB units. Higher capacity versions are slated for roll out in the spring.

It is available in the UK via www.thedatafortress.co.uk.

This is a unique product offering functionality available from no other supplier. If you are concerned that the building in which your servers operate could suffer a data centre fire, fall down, be flooded or blown up then there is nothing else available at the price which could protect your data so well.

OUR VERDICT

Buy a twin-disk, FireWire-connected version to get RAID functionality.