The New Jersey Hospital Association last week said it has contracted with a hosted data storage service provider to offer its 112 member hospitals a single method of backing up and restoring critical data to and from an off-site facility.

The move is part of a growing trend among industry organizations that are trying to ease storage management headaches for their members.

The hospital association said that so far, two member hospitals have contracted for the service, which is being provided by IPR International LLC in Conshohocken, Pa.

Ten other hospitals are "imminently interested" in the service, said an IPR spokeswoman.

Karen Graham, CIO at Cooper Hospital University Medical Center in Mt. Laurel, N.J., said Cooper became the first member of the NJHA to lease the IPR product two years ago, long before the organization began offering it to its membership.

Graham said she likes the idea of a single backup/disaster recovery service for all area hospitals. During natural disasters, such as the recent spate of hurricanes, it can be reassuring to know that all organizations can recover data at the same rate.

"If you're triaging patients from north to south, it's nice to know that my counterparts can recover data to the same degree we can," she said.

State of concern
Graham said that before signing with the hosted service, Cooper Hospital had an direct-attached storage architecture that used Computer Associates International Inc.'s BrightStor ARCserve software to back up data to tape drives.

That system required up to two full-time employees to manage backup configurations, check logs and deal with backup jobs that either didn't run or encountered errors.

"The state of backups were of a grave concern to me. We had an e-mail server crash, and operators were pulling tapes off [drives] that were mislabeled, so I had no clue how recent the data was that we'd be able to recover," Graham said.

It took 72 hours to recover the system, she added.

Graham said the server crash set the stage for the effort to seek a storage service provider. "Tape was a medium I didn't want to deal with anymore," she said.

Graham now replicates 1.5TB of data to IPR's off-site data center over a T1 line. The entire e-mail server can be restored in about six hours, she said.

IPR uses an appliance from Emeryville, Calif.-based EVault Inc. to perform off-site vaulting of data, which lets Cooper "free up resources to focus on more important things," said Graham.

Adam Couture, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said that over the past two years, the revenue of storage service providers has doubled, albeit from "a very small base."

In surveys of IT users that Gartner conducted in 2003 and 2004, 30% to 40% of the respondents said that they would not use an off-site backup service provider under any circumstances.

In 2005, however, that number plunged to 5%, mostly as a result of a number of high-profile data losses, Couture said.

"[Users] also have more confidence in the vendors," Couture said, adding that there are more than 100 vendors now offering hosted storage backup services.

Another factor driving companies to turn to off-site backup services is the added headache of having to encrypt all data at rest.

Couture said the difficulties involved in integrating encryption appliances, plus longer and more complicated backup processes, are pushing IT managers toward offloading the replication function.

"With these online backup services, they autoencrypt everything," Couture said. "There's an advantage."

Appendix - hosted storage

Most hosted storage service providers use:

- Bluepoint Data Storage Inc. services using IBM’s Tivoli software.
- Incentra Solutions Inc. services using technology from CommVault Systems Inc. and Symantec Corp.
- EVault Inc. products without a service provider
- LiveVault Corp. products without a service provider
- Asigra Inc. products without a service provider
- Arsenal Digital Solutions Worldwide Inc. services using technology from Avamar Technologies Inc.