Hurricane Katrina's Impact Ranges Far And Wide

As the long process of cleaning up the Gulf Coast begins, solution providers across the country are unsure how Hurricane Katrina&s wake will impact the overall business environment. Many in the high-tech community are reaching out with helping hands to charities and businesses alike. But amid warnings of 400,000 job losses and government investigations, some solution providers are bracing for an IT spending slowdown. Others, however, foresee a rise in business- continuity projects.

Hope Hayes, president of Alliance Technology Group, a Hanover, Md.-based storage solution provider, said many of her customers closed their wallets after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Isabel, which roared up the East Coast two years ago.

“The one thing you always hear is that people will look to their data or backups,” Hayes said. “But after 9/11, people didn&t want to talk to us for six months. We had a couple of customers ask us, ‘Why are you calling us? Don&t you know what happened?& ”

Ron Roberts, president of Atlanta-based BluPointe DRS, a disaster-recovery-focused solution provider, believes history would suggest a slight increase in business-continuity interest.

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“After 9/11, we got a lot of calls. And after previous hurricanes, we got more callbacks. Some people put new disaster-recovery plans in place, while others put them off until the next hurricane,” Roberts said.

Don Richie, CEO of Sequel Data Systems, an Austin, Texas-based solution provider, said he expects there to be an uptick in disaster recovery, but not from larger companies.

“The major companies—they are accustomed to hurricanes and have had the technology in place for years,” Richie said. “It is the smaller companies that couldn&t afford it that will now consider it. I think you will see a lot of midsize business move in on this.”

Many customers have been piecing together a disaster-recovery plan without putting a definitive one in place, said Terry Verigan, vice president of consulting services at Agilogic, a Metairie, La.-based solution provider who had to relocate to Houston and Baton Rouge, La., after Katrina struck.

Before Katrina, about six customers doing $500,000 or more in business with Agilogic started to engage the solution provider to work on more comprehensive disaster-recovery programs. “One Metairie bank had been in discussions with us on business continuity and disaster recovery, but had not put it in place yet,” Verigan said. “We just got a verbal commitment from the CEO … that will make them able to write a strategic disaster-recovery and business-continuity plan."

Sometimes disaster-recovery plans require the personal touch, as one Lexmark executive showed by taking matters into his own hands. Mark Barnett, director of U.S. product and solutions marketing at Lexmark, left company headquarters in Lexington, Ky., last Friday on a second trip to Mississippi with a truck full of supplies for friends, family and neighbors in his hometown of Brookhaven, Miss.

During his first trip in the days immediately following Katrina&s strike, he provided generators, gas, water, ice and other supplies to several sick and elderly residents.

“The experience is something very difficult to put into words,” Barnett wrote in an e-mail to CRN. “What I saw was absolutely devastating, but at the same time, I witnessed the best humanity has to offer.”

Indeed, many companies have gone out of their way to help Gulf Coast businesses get up and running.

ConnectWise, Tampa, Fla., donated at least four months worth of data hosting services to Restech, a New Orleans-based solution provider displaced by Katrina. ConnectWise backed up four years worth of Restech&s data prior to Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast, which allowed it to get up and running from remote locations after the storm, said Andrew Morgan, vice president of business development at ConnectWise.

“A lot of people can look at the glass as half empty, but we look at it as half full. This is an opportunity for us to do what is right,” Morgan said.

He hopes that everyone learns something from Katrina to help prevent damage from catastrophic disasters in the future. “You need to start talking about storage, security and remote services with your customers,” Morgan said. “You are really helping your customers if you can give them a fixed-cost scenario.”

STEVEN BURKE contributed to this story.