It's easy to send shivers down the spine of an IT director.
Just mention the name Lulz Security, the international hacking group that stole and published identifying information about hundreds of thousands of consumers for about two months before disbanding. LulzSec broke into targets ranging from the U.S. Senate to Sony, stealing hundreds of thousands of passwords and account numbers.
Those stolen credit card numbers and email passwords are the new currency among information-age pirates, the 21st century's pieces-of-eight. Unfortunately, if servers were ships, most small- to medium-size businesses would keep their data in leaky rowboats instead of secure Spanish galleons.
But that has started to change. While security threats always have been a danger to data-rich businesses, Chattanooga-area companies also have had to deal with tornado damage, while Memphis businesses have had to contend with floods that disrupted their computer systems.
Those watery wake-up calls have prompted IT directors to transfer their information, often thinly guarded on their own homegrown servers, to third-party vendors who have invested millions, and sometimes billions of dollars in giant data centers.
Chattanooga-based Terenine is one such vendor.
Terenine has four data centers, including the Terevault, Tennessee's first Tier 3 data center. Physically entering the 12-inch thick, rebar-supported structure requires a retina scan or a cruise missile, officials say, and digitally accessing the facility is even harder.
Keeping spies out is important, but for customers themselves, accessing their data must be easy and seamless - as if the server was in the next room instead of in another city, according to David Glenn, chief technology officer and vice-president of enterprise operations at Terenine.
"We use high-speed equipment, so many people have us host their [data] infrastructure because we can do things in a very highly virtualized environment," he said.
Virtualization is a current trend in IT in which a client who clicks on what appears to be their documents folder could actually be accessing data through a network connection from a hard drive in another city - a virtual hard drive.
"A lot of customers, with what happened with the tornadoes and what's happened with the floods, a lot of people are looking for tier 3 data centers for security," Glenn said.
He's hiring more than a dozen network specialists to help keep up with the demand right now, bringing his Chattanooga crew to more than 120 employees.
Both Glenn and David Carney, president of the company, were brought on in 2011 to oversee Terenine's transformation toward a "full-fledged" technology solutions company, after it was spun off from owner Carey Brown's Credit Payment Services.
In addition to small and medium companies, Terenine also serves as the IT division for the Focus on the Family empire, Precept Ministries and the Dawson McAllister Association, among others.
"One of the things that's important to some of the affiliate companies is faith," Carney said. "It's kind of a good thing and a bad thing because some people love the mission; and some others, it makes them a little nervous. They're not sure what they're getting into."
Employees are sure, however, that their customers expect constant reliability, known as "five nines," Carney said. That's shorthand for 99.999 percent availability, something most server administrators can only dream of.
"That's very attractive to small- to medium-size businesses, because that's very expensive for them to do themselves," he said.
Other companies are taking note of Terenine's success.
QTS, an Atlanta-based data-center enterprise officially called Quality Technology Services, came in behind the tornadoes and floods to both help companies rescue water-logged servers and offer businesses the opportunity to keep their information in QTS' secure data centers.
The data giant has twelve $100 million-plus facilities stretching from Miami to Santa Clara, Calif., with two in Georgia, said Brian Johnston, QTS chief technology officer.
For their customers, it's not just about keeping data safe from thieves and storms. It's about survival.
"Within two years after a major disaster when companies' records are destroyed, more than 50 percent of them go out of business," he said. "Whether its from natural disasters or [denial of service cyber] attack, these services are designed to help those companies protect that intellectual property."
His services have become even more popular in light of the poor economy, wherein scarce capital has prevented most businesses getting the loans necessary to build their own data centers, he said.
The growth in data services also stems from a reluctance in the business world to hire new employees.
"Here we have the country going through a contraction, yet the data center industry is one that continues to grow because more companies are turning to technology for their efficiencies rather than hiring more people," Johnston said.