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Company recovers nearly all of Mukilteo computer data

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By Bill Sheets
Herald Writer
MUKILTEO -- City officials here have been heaving huge sighs of relief since learning late last week they would recover nearly all the data lost in a recent crash of the city's computer system.
The city paid about $36,000 to Kroll Ontrack of Eden Prairie, Minn., to retrieve the information from the three failed hard drives, city finance director Scott James said.
The city found out it will get back more than 95 percent of its information, which includes planning and financial documents, ordinances, resolutions and city council meeting minutes.
"We're very happy we're recovering the data we thought was lost," Mayor Joe Marine said.
The City Council plans on Monday to discuss spending about $180,000 for an entirely new system. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.* at City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.
The system crashed in early April. At first, the hard drives were sent to a company called Secure Data Recovery, which has an office in Seattle. This company was unable to recover the data and charged the city $6,000 for its time, James said.
The hard drives then were sent to Kroll, which had been recommended by the failed system's manufacturer, Dell.
Some city officials have been critical of the initial decision to send the data to a company other than the one recommended.
It was done in the belief Secure Data Recovery was a local firm, officials said, though it turns out the company has offices all over the country.
City Councilman Kevin Stoltz said the bigger issue is why the crash happened at all.
"I want to make sure we're not going to throw $180,000 at this and not take care of the problem that got us into this in the first place," he said.
City officials said the meltdown was triggered by a cooling system failure in July that led to an overheating of the room where the hard drives were stored.
A couple of months before the crash, the city's network engineer -- one of only two information technology staff members at the city -- left for another job and had yet to be replaced. Only the information technology director remained, and he was working in the field on a fiberoptic line at the time.
Automatic notices about the crash were sent at the time but "somebody wasn't getting emails or looking at them," Stoltz said.
City officials have admitted that the previous system was not considered advanced enough for an organization the size of the city.
Still, "it was a good system that had backup," Marine said. "I think nobody expected all three of our drives to fail at the same time."
Councilwoman Jennifer Gregerson said city staff had included requests for help in previous budgets, but these requests were taken out of the budgets by the mayor and did not make it to the council.
One was for a temporary help-desk position that now has been approved, James said. The other was for $3,000 to establish an off-site tape backup system, he said.
"You try to do what you can and put together a system that you think is flawless but there's also an eye to be kept on the cost," Marine said.
The city had an on-site tape backup system that late last year also failed, and had not been repaired by April because it was believed the system's digital backup was enough, officials said. A tape backup system is now being used in the interim, James said. Off-site backup will be considered as part of the new system, he said.
Council president Richard Emery said the city should consider beefing up its staff and purchase a new system.
While it's important to determine what happened, "it's far more important for the focus to be on how we put this together and how we maintain it so we don't end up in the same spot," he said.
"This wasn't as bad in some ways as it could have been. We really dodged a major bullet."
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439;
Correction, June 6, 2012: The time of the City Council meeting was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.
Story tags » Mukilteo

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