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Iron Mountain fires prompt users to hasten hunt for backup options

Two fires at storage facilities, one in London, in July

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Users said this week that two fires earlier this month at Iron Mountain facilities -- including one that destroyed a building in London -- could speed their moves to electronic systems that would obviate the need for such facilities.

Jeff Roberts, IT director at Norton Rose, a London law firm that lost some 7,000 files in a July 12 fire at Iron Mountain's London facility, was already setting up electronic archiving systems. The law firm is using Clariion and Centera storage systems from EMC Corp. and document management software from Interwoven Inc., and it expects the archival system to go live in a couple of months. At that point, Norton Rose may no longer need to keep anything on paper, Roberts said.

The fire in London destroyed Iron Mountain's 126,000-square-foot structure, according to Melissa Mahoney, director of corporate communications at Boston-based Iron Mountain. An investigation is under way to determine what happened and why the fire suppression systems were not able to contain the fire, she said.

Just a day earlier, a fire had damaged an Iron Mountain facility in Ottawa. About 3 percent of the files in storage there were damaged, mostly by water, and less than 0.5 percent were damaged beyond remediation, Mahoney said. While a probe into the cause of that blaze has not been completed, the fire is believed to have been caused by roofing contractors doing repairs. Fire suppression systems worked as designed in the 65,000-square foot Ottawa building.

Even before this month's fires, Neal Hennegan, director of technology at Gilsbar Inc. in Covington, La., was looking for alternatives to Iron Mountain. That's because when Hurricane Katrina struck last year, the Iron Mountain facility in Metairie, La., did not send Hennegan's tapes to Baton Rouge as requested. That meant he later had trouble getting his tapes after the facility flooded. However, Hennegan said he has not yet found an alternative that is as cost-effective or that can deliver media on demand in less than 24 hours.

Hennegan now keeps duplicate tapes at his own facilities -- as well as at Iron Mountain facilities -- and is considering a mirrored replication system. "The days of physical remote storage are clearly numbered," he said. "If we were a smaller shop, we'd be doing all our backups over the wire now."

The fires have prompted Rent-A-Center Inc. to step up plans to implement electronic archival systems, said K.C. Condit, director of technical services at the Plano, Texas-based chain of 3,000 consumer-goods rental stores. The company has been looking to move away from using backup tapes anyway, he said. In the meantime, Condit is talking to his company's Iron Mountain representative about fire suppression in the warehouse Rent-A-Center uses.

John Gervais, currently a program manager for the Canada Revenue Agency in Ottawa, is a former Iron Mountain user who said he found the company's services adequate at that time he used them. His records are now stored with Library and Archives Canada -- Canada's National Archives. But if he were still an Iron Mountain customer, Gervais said he would be making a site visit and reviewing safety precautions with Iron Mountain officials -- and making sure he had backups of records.

Fires such as those that hit Iron Mountain's facilities are not unheard of, said Larry Medina, a Danville, Calif.-based records management professional who serves as chair of the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. According to Medina, who is also a member of the National Fire Protection Agency 232 committee -- which sets standards for the protection of records -- the Brambles Information Management Center in Chicago burned in October 1996. And three suspicious fires occurred in an Iron Mountain facility in South Brunswick, N.J. in March 1997.

Though rare, such fires can be extremely costly, both for users and storage facility providers. Damages from two lawsuits related to a May 1997 fire at a Pennsylvania facility owned by Diversified Records Services Inc. are now up to $65 million. The claimants in that fire, First Union Corp. and Mobil Oil Corp., were awarded more than $20 million each almost four years ago after losing 156,000 and 68,000 boxes of documents, respectively. But the amount of damages rose after the state Supreme Court earlier this month refused an appeal filed by Grinnell Corp., the sprinkler systems manufacturer involved in the case.


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