Hurricane Harvey: Solution Providers Aid Customers With Proactive Services

Solution providers are assisting customers with proactive services aimed at keeping IT operations up and running in the wake of Hurricane Harvey which brought flooding to Houston.

"We designed the data center knowing that these hard storms happen – we've gone through it before and understand the damage it causes," said Faisal Bhutto, vice president of enterprise networking, cloud, and cybersecurity for Computex Technology Solutions - a national cloud and managed services provider within its own data center in Houston.

The solution provider's data center was built 10 feet off the ground. "It's literally elevated – a building inside of a building, so we have no threat of rising waters from a data center perspective," Bhutto told CRN.

Computex also has a failover data center in Minneapolis it tested in June in preparation for the hurricane season to ensure customers will be protected, Bhutto said..

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Hurricane Harvey, the most dangerous storm to hit the U.S. in about 12 years, was on Friday classified as a Category 3 storm. It is expected to bring winds with a sustained speed of 120 mph, with up to 3 feet of rain in some areas and a storm surge on the coast of up to 12 feet.

[Related: Silicon Valley: One Earthquake Away From IT Disaster?]

"We can shift anything to Minneapolis and customer data would be protected [and] services will be up and running," Bhutto said. "We're hoping Harvey doesn't cause much damage to the community. But from an IT asset and services standpoint, we're confident that services will be up and running and our customers won't be impacted."

Computex had staff working onsite in both data centers this weekend.

If any customers lose power inside their own facilities during the storm, Computex doors are open for them to walk in, plug in, and work, Bhutto said. During Hurricane Ike in 2008, 250 Computex customers brought their work to Computex's data centers.

"We hosted over 250 people in our facilities during Ike that literally came in and worked out of our offices for two weeks," he said. "They were productive. They were doing payrolls, collecting bills – business as usual, because their buildings did not have power for 20 days. It was massive. … I hope [Harvey] is not as devastating, but that option is open to our customers. We sent out notifications to clients because there's some panic out there. So our doors will be open."

Mike Villa, project manager for Via Technology, a San Antonio, Texas-based solution provider, told CRN that planning for a potential hurricane is paying off with a project the company has in Brownsville, Texas, which is a potential landing zone for Hurricane Harvey.

Villa said the general contractor on the project had a hurricane plan, and ensured all the sub-contractors like Via Technology did so as well. That plan included taking inventory of everything on the site, taking photos of all work that is completed and work-in progress, and tying down everything that could be tossed by the winds.

Manny Villa, president of Villa Technology, said some of the company's customers are already having infrastructure and phone issues.

"We've already been handling this for the last day or two, and the hurricane has not even hit us yet," he said. "Service will be sketchy going forward."

OffsiteDataSync, a Rochester, N.Y.-based global provider of cloud services including disaster recovery as a service and cloud-based data protection, has already been in touch with its Texas-based customers about the pending hurricane, said CEO Matt Chesterton.

Chesterton told CRN via email that the company has taken four steps to help prepare.

First, OffsiteDataSync sent an alert to clients with their last backup date and time it had on record to alert them if a restore point or scheduled was not as current as expected. The alert also included FAQs about how to fail over to OffsiteDataSync and how to declare a disaster, along with the company's guides on what to expect for if they experience a disaster.

Second, OffsiteDataSync has this week been promoting awareness of cloud backup vs. disaster recovery as a service, and offered special pricing this week and next it hopes will motivate its cloud backup customers to add disaster recovery as a service for critical application stacks and services.

OffsiteDataSync also assembled a 10-member ’Rapid-Response DRaaS’ team consisting of engineers with experience in disaster recovery failover events. "We’ve put this team on-call for the duration of this hurricane and believe it or not they are pretty charged up about saving someone’s day (they really get into this stuff)," Chesterton wrote.

Finally, the company is offering short-term zero-cost options for getting data out of harm’s way for new clients, he wrote.

Chris Pace, founder and CEO of Centre Technologies, a Houston-based solution provider, told CRN via email that challenges during a disaster like a hurricane are rarely related to technical execution, but instead come from how well service providers have communicated with and managed the expectations of customers.

"We develop internal teams to review potential disaster outcomes and prepare relevant, unique messages for each category of people," Pace wrote. "In the end, nothing can be left to the imagination. If you don’t tell someone what you’re going to do, do what you say, and then tell them what you did for them, they will never remember you doing it."

Centre Technologies sent a couple emails to customers to help them prepare for the hurricane.

One of the emails included a list of things customers should do before the hurricane arrives. This includes making a complete inventory of the client's business including photos of IT infrastructures, move paper records to a safe off-site location at least 50 miles away, do final backups and ensure they are replicated off-site, store all equipment in a dry area, and work with Centre Technologies to "gracefully shut down any server and network equipment before evacuating your offices."

RoundTower Technologies, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based solution provider with several clients in the Texas and Louisiana area, has been proactively communicating with and preparing its staff and customers, said Michael Swiencki, director of managed services.

"The customers in these locations are prepared with DR strategies, and we are standing by to assist," Swiencki told CRN via email.

For events like Hurricane Harvey, RoundTower monitors the event from its centralized network operations center in Cincinnati, provides updates to clients, makes sure the RoundTower team has the necessary emergency contact information, provides assistance to customers who choose to proactively failover or shut down services in impact areas, and ensure managers are available to perform internal and external communications and coordination of additional resources, Swiencki wrote.

The arrival of Hurricane Harvey is impacting more than business. "I was planning a Labor Day vacation on the Texas coast," Manny Villa said. "That will change."

Mark Haranas contributed to this story.