Solution providers and their customers are still adding up the damage caused when Hurricane Irene slammed the East Coast this weekend, but they said that advanced disaster preparation meant IT problems caused by the storm were much lighter than they would have been in the past.
A combination of preparation for potential disasters long before Irene was spawned, proactive contact in the days before Irene hit the coast, and a move to outsource many IT functions meant IT operations along the Atlantic Seaboard escaped the kind of damage caused by hurricanes such as Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf of Mexico states in 2005, and Isabel, which soaked the East Coast in 2003.
For Peter Katz, president of PKA Technologies, a Suffern, N.Y.-based solution provider, the experience of one customer, cut off from its offices, forced PKA to immediately decide to move to the cloud to protect itself from future disasters.
That customer found its facilities completely operational after the hurricane once its backup generators kicked in, but water prevented personnel from getting inside, Katz said.
"They couldn't get to the office because it was surrounded by water," he said. "The police wouldn't let them go in. They would need a boat to get there. I would never have thought for one second about not having power in my executive center. But all of a sudden, I saw what happened to the customer. We have to change."
Katz said the experience of that customer worried hime and his staff over the weekend about what would happen if PKA's own offices would be unavailable for a week or two.
"So over the weekend we decided to move our entire infrastructure to the cloud," Katz said. "Our quoting system, our ability to update the status of customer orders, all customer-facing applications, we'll move them to the cloud. Within a year from now, I'll be so remotely-enabled that we won't have to worry about running out of electricity."
Hurricane Irene helped drive home many lessons related to disaster recovery, said Michael Oh, founder and president of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based solution provider.
Fortunately for Tech Superpowers' customers, there were no real disasters, Oh said. "However, clients suddenly realized the benefit of offsite backup," he said.
One customer lost power for a short time, causing its network to crash, but all the servers remained in operation except the one which was not connected to a UPS, Oh said.
The only real problem Tech Superpowers had was one remote employee who lost power at home and struggled to find a place from which to work, Oh said.
"He went to all the Starbucks in the area, but the power was down at all of them," he said. But he eventually wound up working at Panera, a local bakery chain, where the network was running. The place was full of people with their laptops."
Oh said one major lesson of the hurricane was the potential geographic impact such a disaster caused.
Many of Tech Superpowers' customers had their servers and services hosted by Hosted Solutions, a service provider acquired late last year by managed hosted services provider Windstream.
Next: More Lessons Learned