Still Struggling With Sandy, VARs Face Nor'Easter1:11 PM EST Wed. Nov. 07, 2012
As millions of people in the Northeast continue to recover from Superstorm Sandy, here comes another Nor'Easter.
This latest storm has many, including solution providers, worried that the rain, wind and possible snow could hinder the recovery progress for many families and businesses, concerned that a fragile power system that was only recently regained could go out again.
"Hopefully it's not that bad, but it could be damaging winds again. It's possible," said Daniel Haurey, president of Exigent Technologies, a Mount Arlington, N.J.-based VAR, from a hotel room in Pennsylvania Tuesday.
Haurey and his family moved to the hotel, about 30 miles from his house, last week after high winds from Sandy damaged his roof and led to leaking. "This was the closest hotel available," Haurey said. He had contracted a roofer to work on the house Tuesday, but even if that gets fixed, he still had no power to go home to.
Haurey is one of hundreds and perhaps thousands of solution providers still struggling after the brunt of Sandy bore down on the Northeast last week.
Dan Schwab, co-president of D&H Distributing, a Harrisburg, Pa.-based distributor with a big customer base in the Northeast, said Superstorm Sandy severely impacted hundreds of its solution providers.
As a gesture of support, D&H plans to donate 1 percent of orders from its annual Fall Technology Show Wednesday to The American Red Cross for storm relief. In addition, D&H will give 1 percent of sales through its website and mobile app on Friday, Nov. 9, to the Red Cross too, Schwab said.
"It does hit home. I know a lot of my friends lost their homes," Schwab said.
John Zammett, president of HorizonTek, a Huntington, N.Y.-based solution provider, also still had no heat or power as of Tuesday. For the first several days of the storm, he was living at home with a battery attached to a heated recliner he uses to help recover from a recent surgery. Finally, he gave that up late Sunday night and moved in with one of his daughters, who had heat.
"It was so cold," he said. "So now I'm showering at one daughter's house, sleeping at another and eating at all three daughters' houses. I'm glad I had daughters. Sons grow up and move far away."
NEXT: Customers Need Help Too
Meanwhile, as many solution providers and their employees struggle with their own lives, they have to find the time and resources to help customers too, many of whom lost power and access to data because of Sandy.
HorizonTek has Internet service and heat, but its phone provider, Cablevision, lost power, so the company had a single Verizon phone line working as of Nov. 6, HorizonTek's Zammett said.
Because of that single operating phone line, HorizonTek for now is taking customer calls, but not making outgoing calls. "Our outgoing calls guy can't get enough gas for his car to come in anyway," Zammett said. "And even if he makes it in, he can't make calls. And when you're not making outgoing calls, that's affecting tomorrow's business."
As a result, Sandy has pretty much put business on-hold for HorizonTek, Zammett said. The company had been planning to close a huge NetApp order in Pennsylvania but couldn't get the needed signatures in time to close the deal before the end of NetApp's third fiscal quarter.
"I'm not worried about getting the deal," he said. "But you always worry about an opportunity until it closes."
Hanover, Md.-based Alliance Technology Group was a lot more fortunate than its peers in New York or New Jersey, but even so, it lost power for one-and-a-half days, said Hope Hayes, president of the solution provider.
Because it was using a hosted email system, employees who had power could still access emails, Hayes said. "But we couldn't process orders," she said. "If push came to shove, we could pull out our old spreadsheets. But if a vendor sent us an email, it wouldn't go automatically into our accounting system."
Hayes said Alliance's UPS infrastructure worked perfectly, with all systems powering down and then getting back on-line as planned. It was, however a test of the UPS infrastructure under fire.
"We always wanted to test it," she said. "But you can't tell everyone to stop what they're doing to turn everything off. Someone is always working on something 'important.'"
Because of the Maryland Governor's office advisory to stay off the roads, Hayes was unable to visit the office for several days to view the damage, which she said was minimal despite being situated between two wooded areas.
However, Alliance's lowly fax machine provided word that the electricity was back up.
"We would call the main office line and the phone would continue to ring," she said. "The voice mail system had to reboot because the server had gone down. So how would we know when power was up? I called the fax machine and heard that screeching sound and knew it was up."
NEXT: Storm Starts Cloud Conversations
Joe Ambrosole, president of NetConnect, a Staten Island, N.Y.-based solution provider, said his employees have had to help at least one customer rescue equipment from a flooded building, while numerous customers had prolonged power outages too. At least some of these customers still had completely on-premise solutions, despite NetConnect efforts over the last several years to move at least some functions to a hosted environment.
A major hindrance, especially in the New York area, is that a customer feels it is safe from flooding if it's on the 18th floor of a high-rise building. The problem, Ambrosole said, is if that no one can even get to the first floor, they can't get to the 18th floor. NetConnect staff helped move one of its bigger clients' servers to its own data center. Ambrosole only half-kiddingly told the client it's not giving the servers back.
"I actually have my data room full of other people's equipment right now. I said if it's important for these guys, you can't put it back on site. Spend the money to have it hosted 24x7. We offered before the storm [to host equipment] and nobody took us up on it," Ambrosole said. "We have clients hosted with us and they never lost a beat. They had the ability to work if they found power somewhere."
Many customers still need to learn lessons the hard way, Ambrosole said. But this experience is opening up discussions with customers about cloud computing, he added.
"Until this happened, everybody was comfortable. They said 'I'm on the 16th floor of an office building. It doesn't matter,'" Ambrosole said.
Exigent's Haurey has had similar conversations
"When people are not in pain, it's not top of mind. My best friend is a dentist and tells me all the time people will go every two years to get their teeth cleaned but when they have a toothache they'll do anything to get out of the pain. When everything works, [business continuity] gets pushed to the backburner," Haurey said. "Our mantra is not 'if,' but 'when.'"
Three members of Exigent's staff went into a client's site near South Street Seaport in Manhattan last weekend to extricate a big client's IT infrastructure out—and down eight flights of stairs—from an area that had been damaged by flooding. Because the area was still not secure, the VAR's team, along with a group of the client's staff, had to get in and out quickly.
"I called them Seal Team Six," Haurey said. "It was quite chaotic. There were environmental remediation crews, lots of police."
Paul Bender, a technical account manager at Exigent, was on one of the VAR's team to go into Manhattan and haul equipment down eight stories. He said the client is now ready to talk about the cloud.
"We said, look we've got you in a data center now. Let's avoid this ever happening," Bender said.
Exigent has had its own IT in the cloud for some time and said it will look to lead by example going forward.
"We're trying to be as proactive as possible, especially when a storm is coming. In general, praise the cloud and be an evangelist of the cloud to clients," Bender said.
Joseph F. Kovar contributed to this story.
PUBLISHED NOV. 7, 2012