Polar Vortex Freezes Solution Provider Businesses


The extreme cold front has dropped temperatures in parts of the country to record lows, but solution providers say the so-called "polar vortex" has put a freeze on their businesses as well.

For solution providers, the most common business disruption has been that, in the event there is a technical problem, they aren't able to get to their clients, or even their own offices.

"I am an MSP, so most of the work I do is in-house, ... but I do have very important guys in the field and [there are] fires that need to be put out. When weather like this hits, there's nothing anyone can do," Allison Norton, director of marketing for Naperville-Ill.-based Outsource Solutions Group, told CRN. "Sometimes we have a problem just physically getting somewhere."

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Joe Balsarotti, president of St. Peters, Mo.-based Software To Go, said he had to close his business, but so did his clients. However, when technical problems arose, his staff wasn't able to get to them to check out the problem. He said he was stuck in his home because roads were not plowed until Tuesday.

"One client in Chicago had power and Comcast [service] outages on the weekend, but decided it too risky to even go in to eyeball the situation," Balsarotti said to CRN in an email. "[All four of us] eventually got in today and one tech handled a customer need on his way in, but there's little, if any, business being transacted."

However, even if solution providers are able to do most of their work remotely, power outages have been making staying connected unreliable, Balsarotti said.

Norton said that clients just want to make sure their email is still spooling, regardless of the outages. She said that customer service, as well as battery backups, really come into play during the power outages, so clients don't panic because they've lost access to business-critical emails.

"Really a lot of it is counseling, making sure you walk your customers through the process as smoothly and professionally as possible," Norton said.

Data center humidity also becomes a problem with the cold, Brad Hokamp, CEO of Omaha, Neb.-based Cosentry, said. That forces data center administrators to carefully monitor their data center cooling units to ensure they are working properly even during cold weather.

"[My staff's] been working long hours over the weekends," Hokamp said.

Across the country, approximately 6,000 flights were cancelled as a result of the weather on Monday and Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com. As with many other cross-country travelers, solution providers felt the hit of grounded planes and delayed flights. Beyond regular travel, the polar vortex fell on the same week as the popular Consumer Electronics Show event in Las Vegas, Nev., which meant some solution providers were unable to attend the show as they had in the past.

Balsarotti said that he usually goes to CES every year, but he was unable to get a flight to the event. That meant a stack of non-refundable expenses, from pre-paid accommodations to airport expenses, while hoping to still get on a plane to Las Vegas.

"Add to that snow removal and the cost to heat our building in these Arctic temps and January 2014 is already an expensive month," Balsarotti said in an email.

However, the crazy amount of cold has actually been a business booster for some. Glen Hampton, president of Chicago, Ill.-based Equilibrium IT Solutions, said in an email that he has actually seen a spike in business for disaster recovery projects. He said that disaster recovery and design consulting projects usually have a long sales cycle, but two businesses contacted the company for disaster recovery solutions this week.

"The severe cold weather has resulted in some hot sales for [Equilibrium IT Solutions]!" Hampton said in an email.

In the end, it's all about dealing with the situation as best as you can, Norton said.

"We have to start practicing like we preach. The good thing is that when we're managing these environments, ... we prepare for this stuff," Norton said. "It's all part of being a consultant."

PUBLISHED JAN. 8, 2013