Amid Maui Wildfires, Local MSPs Step Up For Customers, Community, Each Other

‘A lot of [customers] are just scrambling to exist. So whoever is left, some of them are operational. ... Most of them—especially the ones in Lahaina town—are scrambling to figure out what they need to get out of their backups in order to do their insurance claims,’ Uli Kirkegaard, principal at Lahaina, Hawaii-based MSP Pacific Tech Gurus, tells CRN.


Despite the loss of Uli Kirkegaard’s house and office to the Maui wildfires—and despite the time he now dedicates to navigating insurance policies and hunting for supplies at the crowded grocery and hardware stores—the principal at Lahaina, Hawaii-based MSP Pacific Tech Gurus and his technician continue to show up for customers.

“A lot of them are just scrambling to exist,” Kirkegaard told CRN. “So whoever is left, some of them are operational. Some of them [are working] to pay their bills. Most of them—especially the ones in Lahaina town—are scrambling to figure out what they need to get out of their backups in order to do their insurance claims.”

As Kirkegaard and his technician deal with the effects of the wildfires on their lives, they are at work spinning up cloud environments for customers whose on-premises infrastructure burned in the fire, which has resulted in the deaths of 115 people, hundreds of people missing and thousands of burned buildings and acres. The cost to rebuild could reach around $5.52 billion.

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“Some of them [customers] were eager to post payrolls last week even though everybody’s displaced,” Kirkegaard said. “They’re like, ‘We’ve got to get our QuickBooks files. We’ve got to do our payroll.’ … There’s a bunch of companies as well that have no internet.”

[RELATED: Texas Winter Storm: IT Channel, Clients Face Rolling Blackouts, Internet Outages ‘Disrupting Everything’]

MSPs And The Maui Wildfires

Even with modern advancements in technology, natural disasters can still disrupt business and devastate communities, with solution providers a key role in the recovery, as seen with the Texas winter storm of 2021 and the deadly California wildfires.

Last year, record summer heat forced Google and Oracle into cloud outages when cooling systems failed at data centers in London.

In Hawaii, Kirkegaard said that he’s seen a unified community effort from fellow MSPs and from vendors to help people affected by the fires.

One solution provider executive offered Kirkegaard and his technician the ability to work out of its offices or locate a server there, he said. A separate MSP executive donated laptops and a network adapter for Kirkegaard to use for customers.

Kirkegaard told CRN that one of the donated laptops came from Jason Stone, CEO of Maui-based Tech Partners Hawaii, and is now being used by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation to assist maintenance staff with uploading pictures of the many burned buildings that they manage.

“I said, ‘Well, I can pay for it.’ And he said, ‘Nah.’ So he just donated it,” Kirkegaard said. “He’s someone else that understands our position. He gave me a big hug. That’s how we do it in Hawaii. He has been super helpful.”

Hawaii MSPs Work Together

In an interview with CRN, Stone estimated that in two days his company gave out 15 laptops.

“Any spare equipment we had that was earmarked for recycling or donation got rebuilt and we posted that we were giving out loaner laptops, loaner desktops,” he said. “We’re calling them ‘loaner.’ [But] I’m not [looking for] any of those to come back.”

He also worked with Elcco Electric, a local electrical contracting company, to prepare and deliver Starlink satellite internet systems.

“That was nice,” he said. “It gave us something to do. Something to focus on. Get people connected.”

Early customer work at the start of the wildfires included data restoration into backup and disaster recovery devices Tech Partners Hawaii held, Stone said. He remembers customers seeking restoration of their QuickBooks and other financial data to make payroll.

“That was a big thing for them,” he said. “They wanted to make sure any staff got paid no matter what.”

At this point, Stone and his team have restored all data requested by customers. Some have explored moving more workloads to the cloud for efficiency. Others are “in pause mode, still,” Stone said.

None of Stone’s employees were in the affected area. But he estimates that one-fifth of his customers—restaurants, small hotels and hospitality businesses—experienced damaged offices or power and internet outages.

“About seven clients’ offices were completely destroyed,” he said. “We’re a small MSP. … So a fairly large chunk of our client base was directly affected.”

Stone described Hawaii as a place where technology adoption once lagged due to expensive and slow business internet connectivity. At the time, customers kept workloads local.

“Now, internet connectivity has gotten to a point where we can get redundancy for clients—whether it’s two internet connections or an LTE backup—for a reasonable price,” he said.

The fires came amid a resurgence in tourism for Hawaii, with customers resuming IT projects mothballed during the pandemic, Stone said.

Stone was in Denver attending a ConnectWise IT Nation Evolve event as the wildfires first unfolded. IT Nation Evolve connected Stone with its Hands that Give emergency response fund. Evolve peer members reached out with monetary and material support.

Cloud distributor Pax8 and security vendor Huntress also reached out to help. Microsoft virtual desktop tools vendor Nerdio expedited pricing for customers while Dell Technologies expedited equipment ordering and shipping. And GreatAmerica Financial Services put together a program for his customers to get bridge loans until insurance reimburses hardware losses.

“Everyone was helpful,” he said. “There is no one who wasn’t. If I reached out and asked, they were available.”

Stone expects a drop of at least 13 percent to his monthly recurring revenue due to the fire’s effects on his customers. But his mind is on helping them and what’s next for Maui.

“We just want to support any of the contractors or … the people that are rebuilding,” he said. “We want to help them as much as possible. That’s going to be our focus once the relief portion is done. Just helping those companies facilitate their portion of the recovery.”

Derek Gabriel, CEO of Honolulu-based Ignite Solutions Group, told CRN that he’s ready to help with rebuilding, which will likely include cabling, installation, computer equipment and other activity.

As a result of the fires, Gabriel joined the IT Disaster Resource Center as a local volunteer to help. Across Maui, the organization has set up charging stations and public hotspots to aid with residents’ internet connectivity.

“We’ve got cold servers and storage. And we’ve got data center partners here that have desks available,” Gabriel said. “And we’re strong Microsoft partners. We’ve got all the Windows and Azure stuff that we can throw things at. So a lot of it’s really … anticipating what is going to [be needed] when we actually get to the real recovery part.”

Although he’s not located in Maui, the wildfires have emotionally devastated Gabriel and his team. Customers and associates were affected by the fires, he said.

“Life was lost,” he said. “And it’s extremely unfortunate. … Between [past fires] and the hurricane, tropical storm, tsunami kind of stuff, we’ve had a lot of close calls on those, too.”

He said he’s hopeful that Hawaii and its residents will take steps to prevent another tragedy of this magnitude.

“It’s an opportunity to do a lot of learning,” he said. “We’ve got infrastructure challenges, big time, that this has highlighted. … I hope a big takeaway from this in the long run is being able to improve our ultimate disaster preparedness.”

The Kirkegaards’ Escape

As the wildfire raged in Lahaina, Kirkegaard and his wife, Neide Okura Kirkegaard, escaped with their cars, passports and a bag of clothes.

Kirkegaard has evacuated the area a handful of times in his 20-something years on the island. But he wasn’t prepared for the devastation.

“The trauma was much bigger this time around because we were in the line of fire,” he said. “And then in disbelief the next day. Then we were able to drive close, but we couldn’t [drive to the house]. And then we walked two miles back to behind the town where our house is at the northern end. And we walked in and saw everything was just gone.”

He continued: “What we are experiencing is—it’s unreal. An apocalyptic scenario. It’s a horror show.”

Kirkegaard has temporary shelter with a friend. With the smoke and noise outside, it took days to fall asleep, he said.

Places To Donate

The three Hawaii-based MSP executives who spoke with CRN recommended multiple groups people can donate to, including:

*The Maui Strong Fund by the Hawaii Community Foundation

*Rotary International District 5000

*Maui Food Bank

*Maui United Way

*The Salvation Army

*Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation

*Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

*World Central Kitchen

*River of Life Mission

*Maui Humane Society

The Kirkegaards raised more than $59,000 in more than 230 donations to help the couple “get back on our feet again and help to rebuild the house,” according to the GoFundMe page.

“With this help we are able to get through with hope moving forward,” they posted in an update to the page. “We can’t be thankful enough—we are so overwhelmed.”

Kirkegaard told CRN that the couple spent their life savings on the house and moved into it in February after 11 months of remodeling.

“We actually worked on the house longer than we lived in the house. And that’s the sad reality,” he told CRN. “That is the place that we fought so much to get and worked so hard to buy.”

Originally from Denmark, Kirkegaard started traveling to Hawaii in 1999. He started a Hawaii branch of a company in Denmark and eventually met his wife. The Aloha State became home. He started the business that would become Pacific Tech Gurus in 2008.

“People were asking, ‘Why did you leave the comfort of Danish society because you guys have everything over there. Free health care,” he said. “But I wanted to try this American dream. But it’s in Hawaii, so it’s a little bit different.”

Despite everything, he’s not leaving Maui, even though he estimates that years could pass before he’s in a new home.

“I’m going to have to find a semi-permanent living situation for my family because it will be at least three years until there’s a house or a town to put a house on,” he said. “And that’s the reality for thousands … It’s trying to figure out how to do rental housing that can sustain us while we rebuild our little town.”