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Iron Mountain Goes Virtual With File Archive

Document archiving giant Iron Mountain is aiming to scale another towering peak: cutting down on enterprises' staggering storage costs by using the Web.

The 58-year-old company -- best known for its core, paper-based retention and archiving business -- is expanding its online efforts with Virtual File Store (VFS), a hosted storage archiving solution that provides on-demand access, retention policy provisions and search capabilities.

Using VFS, enterprises can move static files over the Web to one of two U.S.-based datacenters owned and managed by Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM). The vendor said it's a cost-efficient approach to using tape backup systems, which can be cumbersome to manage, and even more costly hard drive storage.

"This is an enterprise-class solution that demands no capital outlay and offers scalability," Steve Blumenau, Iron Mountain's vice president of technology for digital archiving, told InternetNews.com.

Iron Mountain estimates 50 to 65 percent of stored data is inactive but remains housed on high-end storage arrays. "We're targeting lowering the storage cost of that data," Blumenau said.

The new product comes as companies strive to cut costs and improve efficiencies around handling an increasing amount of data. The need for archiving is driven by compliance mandates, electronic discovery laws and an overall demand for more cost-effective storage strategies.

User files are typically strewn across desktops and servers, and file archival traditionally ends up on costly front-line storage for a few reasons. For starters, there is a need for quick access, which is difficult with tape. In addition, moving files to cheaper storage boxes can be a real time-sink, costing enterprises money.

By going on-demand, however, Iron Mountain is aiming to avoid those issues.

"This kind of hybrid solution is fairly unique as it's the first that connects that on-premise environment to an off-site service and provides on-demand access," Brian Babineau, senior analyst with ESG, told InternetNews.com.

"It's hard to build up a service model that can do this well," Babineau said, explaining the approach has to be profitable while providing good security and easy management for customers.

The VFS retention policy gives companies greater management of data to be stored, he noted, and the basic search function is valuable when dealing with meeting legal requirements, he added.

"With tape, you can't do either," he noted.

Document management rivals

For Iron Mountain, the effort is another step toward duplicating its dominance in the physical data records keeping and management sector in the competitive digital records industry.

The company launched its digital storage service in 2000 and has been gradually adding to its Internet portfolio. In May 2008, it joined forces with IBM (NYSE: IBM) to combine its Accutrac software with Big Blue's FileNet Records Manager, creating a tool for managing both paper and digital records.

But IBM is also working on its own data archiving innovations, as are some other players.

Last spring, IBM opened the doors of a brand-new $10 million dollar Global Archive Solutions Center in Mexico, designed to help companies develop and build long-term plans for data archival.

Also last year, HP rolled out its Medical Archive Solution 3.0, an archiving platform designed for healthcare providers. U.S. regulations require hospitals and clinics to save adult medical records and images for seven years and pediatric records for at least 25 years, making powerful compliance and search tools critical for the industry.

Newcomer Mimosa Systems debuted NearPoint File Systems Archiving last year as well. The tool promises to improve retention, retrieval and recovery processes for archiving files, e-mail, instant messaging and content housed on backup tapes.

Iron Mountain declined to discuss how much it plans to charge for VFS. Blumenau said there is a one-time professional fee for setting up the needed file server and software, and then there are recurring fees based on the amount of data archived and stored.

As with other hosted software and services plays, the company says its approach cuts costs compared to on-site deployments. The company said the total cost of ownership lower than traditional file archiving strategies, which involve buying more high-end storage arrays and paying operational costs for housing and infrastructure management.

"A lot of times, the storage planning goes wrong and enterprises find they need to make a huge capital expenditure to deal with more data than expected," Blumenau said. "This ... approach smooths that all out and put them in complete control."