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Backing up keeps firms running

The 40 employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ New Orleans office are now spread across at least four states - Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

Managing director Kathy Nieland believes that her home was destroyed by floodwaters from Lake Pontchartrain. Pricewaterhouse’s office, in the battered downtown area, may not be in much better shape. It could be weeks before staffers are allowed back inside.

But just two days after Hurricane Katrina passed, Nieland determined that most of her office’s data were safe. “We have 95 percent of what we need, if not more,” she said. “We’re in good shape.”

It wasn’t luck. It was a high-quality backup system.

Katrina is reminding companies of all sizes that it’s not just hackers and viruses that wipe out corporate data — and perhaps prompting some to consider long-postponed backup and recovery systems.

Pricewaterhouse, a global company, had the kind of contingency plan that many tech analysts advocate. Staffers regularly store work on distant computer networks. That’s convenient, because employees can access their files from almost anywhere. But it’s also safe.

When the water recedes, there’s a chance that companies in New Orleans may have saved more data than those in other disasters. That’s because they had notice that the hurricane was coming and could have learned from Sept. 11 and other catastrophes.

The influx of computer viruses and hacker attacks in recent years has also prompted firms to strengthen backup systems. Half of 133 large businesses recently surveyed by researcher Gartner said they’re increasing their tech security budgets this year and next.

But many small companies may not have any backup systems at all, since installing a system is often seen as pricey and difficult. Tech firms are responding with products designed to make it easier.

IBM this month will begin selling backup software that continually makes a copy of a user’s files. The copy can be stored on a remote computer or locally, depending on a users’ preference. It costs $35 per PC or $1,000 per server, and will be available through