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Alaskan IT Firms Bracing For Volcanic Ash Fall

The ash fall from Mount Redoubt, a 9,000-foot stratovolcano located in the Chigmit Mountains about 110 miles southwest of Anchorage, is also impacting IT operations in Fairbanks, Alaska, about 250 miles north of Anchorage.

Mount Redoubt erupted for the first time in nearly two decades Sunday night, with a series of five eruptions sending a volcanic ash plume nearly 10 miles into the atmosphere.

Volcanic ash is known for its ability to wreak havoc on desktops, servers, and basically any type of IT infrastructure that has moving parts. And it also contains silica sand, a conductive material that's capable of destroying circuit boards, says Scott Thorson, CEO at Network Business Systems, an Anchorage, Alaska-based solution provider.

The ash fall is currently coming down north and west of Anchorage, but for Thorson, it'll be a nervous night of monitoring wind patterns. "Ash fall is very fine -- it's almost like talcum powder in terms of weight -- and it slides easily through air conditioning systems, even with filters installed," Thorson said.

Peter Lang, an IT systems administrator with Alaska Data Technologies, an Anchorage-based carrier and systems integrator, says any major wind shift could break up the ash cloud and significantly broaden the ash fall area. If that happens, Alaska Data Technologies would activate the disaster response plans it has in place with customers, Land said.

This would include ratcheting down production and backup servers to lower levels of activity and activating auxiliary air filters in an attempt to keep the destructive ash at bay, said Lang. "If it gets really bad, we will take the servers down completely, because some of our customers don't have closed environments," he said.

The ash fall from Mount Redoubt, a 9,000-foot stratovolcano located in the Chigmit Mountains about 110 miles southwest of Anchorage, is also impacting IT operations in Fairbanks, Alaska, about 250 miles north of Anchorage. According to John Lubben, manager of Fairbanks-based solution provider blueWire Technologies, some employees in the Anchorage have had trouble getting to work, and connectivity with southern Alaska has been sporadic for much of the day.

Fairbanks is accustomed to being at the mercy of Mother Nature, and spring thaws have brought mudslides that have effectively cut off the region from southern Alaska, Lubben said. The good news is that GCI and ACS, two large Alaskan ISPs, are in the process of improving the region's network connectivity, he added.

In the meantime, Alaskan solution providers are hoping that the ash fall continues to skirt the Anchorage area and stays in the mountains, where its impact will be minimal.

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