Iron Mountain is a well-known and successful document vaulting company with more than 200,000 customers. It has very recently opened a London office and started an electronic vaulting service. This is a managed backup and recovery service for server and PC data. Instead of backing up to tape, or disk, a customer backs up across a network link to an Iron Mountain system. We tested this service out on a PC.

The actual product is, or rather was, Connected Corporation's Connected DataProtector/PC product. 'Was' because Iron Mountain just bought Connected Corporation a few days ago on October 13th. Shades of Remington: "I liked the product so much I bought the company." Electronic Vaulting has been available in the USA for some time and Cisco is one of Iron Mountain's customers.

Each client PC, or notebook, has to have agent software installed. This can be downloaded, or delivered on CD. Windows PCs are supported. That PC/notebook user has to have an account set up on a central Iron Mountain machine. There is no need for the user to log in to the central server with a username/password combination as the agent software communicates on behalf of the user. All communication is encrypted; we used 128 bit AES encryption.

The next step after installation is to run the first backup. This will be a full and not an incremental backup. Subsequent backups of changed files will be incremental with only the changed bytes being sent up the link. There needs to be a network link in place for this and, ideally, it should be broadband. Dial-up modem access is supported but, obviously, the more folders and files there are in the initial full backup the longer the process will take. Bear with it. The results are worthwhile.

You can specify a complete C: drive back up or specify particular files and folders. You can also specify the date and time. The agent software scans the specified folders and then sends them, and the folder structure, up the link, first compressing the software and then encrypting it. The Iron Mountain vault is stored in an encrypted state so Iron Mountain staff can't read your files.

The compression results can be very satisfying. Some of my files shrank to an eightieth of their native size. I specified a near 9GB folder and it took around 12 hours, but then I do use BT's ADSL and the outgoing link is a whole lot slower than the incoming link. Users with more symmetrical broadband will have a faster initial backup.

I then worked for a few days changing files. The central Iron Mountain system had a policy set for me which specified which files to backup and when to do it. It was set to remind me to fire up electronic vaulting if I closed the system down and recently-changed files had not been backed up. This is a very nice feature and gets over the real problem of PC and notebook backups; this is that users can't be relied upon to do them. Automatic, scheduled, in-the-background electronic vaulting solves this problem and the reminder before shutdown completes a very nice picture.

The system manager has a number of policy templates and can easily and comprehensively control backup policies across thousands of users by, for example, grouping them into communities with specific policies.

I restored a 48.4GB file. It's worth pointing out that I could see multiple versions of this file which I had worked on over the past few days. So I could choose whichever version I wanted and control the destination directory. The restore view of my files uses a familiar Windows Explorer view; it was as if I was navigating through the folders on a networked drive. No surprise really, I was.

The restore took place at around 104KB/sec. That sounds slow but it was compressed data. In fact, I had the full 48.4GB back on my system in just under four minutes - that was an effective speed of 12GB/minute. Contrast that with getting the same file off a tape or, worse, not being able to restore it at all. The improvement in my productivity, through being able to cope with accidental file deletions, is obvious.

If my notebook was stolen I could have a new one delivered with Windows on it, install the Iron Mountain agent and then restore everything, including my desktop icons and settings.

This is seriously good software and I recommend the service.

OUR VERDICT

If you have desktop and notebook computers with important data on them that aren't reliably backed up then consider using this service - seriously consider it.