September 8, 2008

Get Rid Of Pesky Data With the Help Of Experts

By Ruth, Joao-Pierre S

Low-cost options are available


In one quick click of the mouse, a computer can get infected with viruses and other corrupting software that can scramble its functions. When a company gets hit with malicious software, also called "malware," information may be stolen, e-mail can becomeinaccessible and businesstransactions may be halted until the problem is fixed. Getting rid of digital infections can require complicated cures that outstrip the average business owner's computer know-how.

Far Hills-based Clean Machine is a software-based service that connects remotely to its clients' computers to remove harmful programs and guard against future problems.

CEO Larry Gordon says his typical customer owns fewer than 25 computers, and does not want to pay high rates for computer-related services. "It's the small guys with $1 million to $5 million in revenue that are in an underserved market," he says.

Clean Machine charges clients $100 per computer, per year for service. The company also offers contracts at a monthly rate of $19.99 with a three-month minimum service agreement.

Clean Machine's products operate after hours to eliminate viruses and deceptive Trojan files, and identify data clutter that can be eliminated to make computer systems more efficient, according to Gordon.

He says his customers "realize how much work it takes, don't want to do it themselves but they want to avoid costly security breaches." In addition, Gordon says such maintenance frees up about 1 percent of a computer's memory per month by removing unnecessary data.

Though founded in 2005, Gordon says he shelved Clean Machine until this year to focus on other business endeavors. Clean Machine received an angel investment last fall totaling less than $1 million, which helped him bring his service to market. Gordon says he expects to generate about $1 million in revenue in the first full year of business.

Keeping the office computers running smoothly is essential for residential real estate brokerage Agresti Realty Ltd. in Hoboken. Owner Joanne Agresti does business in the Hudson County area using computers to search the Multiple Listing Service for available properties. She also uses the Web to gather information on interest rates and new real estate loan products. "In real estate, there is a lot of business that is conducted on the Internet through advertising and [virtual] showings," she says.

Not a tech expert herself, Agresti previously paid a local computer specialist to visit her five-person firm when problems arose on any of her four computers-two desktops and two laptops. "I had to hire a technical person to come in and maintain the computers," she said.

Agresti says she used the repairman for six years, calling for service when glitches slowed down or stalled her computers. "Every time I called the tech guy, he would be in for three hours and I would pay him $90 per hour," she says. The repair service had to be conducted during standard business hours, further disrupting her operations.

In February, Agresti hired Clean Machine as a lower-cost alternative to monitor the performance of her computers. "Since they took over, I've really had to do nothing," Agresti says. "All the maintenance is done overnight."

Besides real estate brokers, Gordon says Clean Machine's customers include dentists, retailers and a few small manufacturers. The company has some 500 clients across the United States and in Britain.

Clean Machine is one of many options available for protecting computers from malware. Retail software to fix such problems is also available through such developers as Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc. Knowing the right software to buy and applying it to full effect requires a bit of computer savvy on the user's part. Paid services such as the Geek Squad experts at Best Buy and independent technicians can remove malware for a price.

Geek Squad, for example, can set up a computer with antivirus and other security software that will automatically update, in addition to other maintenance. The service offers maintenance contracts that range between $99 and $150 per hour, according to Geek Squad "Double Agent" Derek Meister in Cleveland, who works with small and midsize business clients. "Maintenance contracts tend to be custom built for clients," he says.

One of Clean Machine's financial backers, Rich Masterson, principal with early-stage private-equity investor Masterson Development in Fort Washington, Pa., says Clean Machine is a moderately priced alternative compared with other options on the market. "You've got Geek Squad, which is very expensive on a percall basis and requires no user knowledge," Masterson says. "Then you have the softwareonly solutions that are very inexpensive, but require great user knowledge. Clean Machine fits squarely in the middle."

Clean Machine charges clients $100 per computer, per year for service. Clean Machine CEO Larry Gordon works on a computer at Agresti Realty. Owner Joanne Agresti and Gordon are shown above.

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Copyright Journal Publications Inc. Aug 11, 2008

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