Hurricane Irma: Florida Solution Providers Batten Down The Hatches As Massive Storm Approaches

Florida solution providers are working with clients on helping them avoid IT disasters as a new massive hurricane rips through the Caribbean and could hit landfall in U.S. this weekend.

While Hurricane Irma, which is responsible for three deaths so far in St. Bartholomew and St. Martin, could veer northward in time to save Florida from what will likely be a Category 4 hurricane, but solution providers are not taking chances with IT infrastructure.

Hurricane Irma is following closely on the heels of Hurricane Harvey which in the last couple weeks has devastated the Houston area with up to 50 inches of rain and a huge storm surge. Combined, the rain and storm surge resulted in massive flooding that damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Texas and triggered disaster preparation and disaster recovery plans throughout the area.

[Related: Hurricane Harvey: Solution Providers Aid Customers With Proactive Services]

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It's already starting to get crazy in Florida with all the attention being paid to Hurricane Irma, said Hugo Perez, managing director of cloud at United Data Technologies, a Doral, Fla.-based managed services provider and cloud services provider.

"Florida, like the other 49 states, put our energy behind helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey," Perez told CRN. "Now Irma is coming, and we're looking to how it will impact Florida. We're short of water, gas, and propane."

United Data Technologies made a good living from selling on-premises IT infrastructure, but is now heavily focused on using the Microsoft Azure cloud for disaster recovery and business continuity, especially for smaller businesses that have trouble managing their own IT environments, he said.

The company, one of only 100 Tier 1 Microsoft cloud solution providers in the U.S., has been busy providing customers with hotlines and hurricane alerts to help prepare for the storm, as well as making sure customers are ready when it comes to disaster recovery, Perez said.

Preparation work is of particular importance for smaller businesses like law firms, accounting firms, non-profits and anyone with less than 200 people, he said.

"For these small companies, people probably won't show up to work because of the hurricane," he said. "So we make sure they are safe. The most important thing to these companies outside of their people is their data. A loss of data can completely close one of these businesses."

Communication with clients during the run up to Hurricane Irma has been the top priority for LAN Infotech, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based solution provider, wrote company President Michael Goldstein in an email to CRN.

LAN Infotech has also had many discussions with its clients to ensure they know how to contact the solution provider, understand local closing issues, and understand the importance of making sure the solution provider has proper shutdown times so backups can be completed, Goldstein wrote.

"Many information documents have also been sent to clients so they know local emergency [number]s, evacuation areas and basically how to call and when. We encourage that clients distribute [this information] to employees," he wrote.

LAN Infotech has moved most of its infrastructure to the Microsoft cloud over the last couple of years, and it has invested in cellular routers across multiple mobile providers to ensure the company can stay online, Goldstein wrote.

"Lastly VoIP has been a big advance for us. As the storm approaches employees will be working from home so we can prepare their own homes but also be in touch with our company and clients," he wrote.

Focal Point Solution Solutions Group is already working with Florida customers to prepare for Hurricane Irma, said Ron Venzin, a partner in the Ellenton, Fla.-based solution provider in an emailed response to CRN.

Focal Point is helping clients with scheduling their high-availability disaster recovery switch-over and planning when and how to shut down vulnerable IT infrastructures, Venzin wrote.

"We are emphasizing to all customers they need to schedule whatever actions they are going to execute, create a plan and don't wait until the storm hits. Communications to systems may not be available, and more importantly people (theirs or ours) may not be available to shut systems down in an orderly fashion," he wrote.

Focal Point is also working to ensure that its people are ready to provide aid to customers, including making engineers located in Arizona and California ready to help out the company's Florida customers, Venzin wrote.

"We have a couple of engineers in areas that could possibly be affected by the storm. We booked hotels room for them and their families that are near our data center in Atlanta. That will ensure our resources are available at all times," he wrote.

Chris Pyle, president of Champion Solutions Group, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based solution provider, told CRN via email that his company has sent all of its Florida clients tips and tricks on how to ensure that they are protected from an IT disaster during Hurricane Irma, and offered to help them in any way possible.

The businesses best able to ride out Hurricane Irma with a minimum of damage to their IT infrastructures are those who have embraced the cloud as much as possible, Pyle wrote.

Over the past couple of years, Champion has migrated many clients to Office 365 which eliminates the need to use and protect as many servers traditionally required for such tasks as email, Pyle wrote.

"We have also seen many more of our clients using SharePoint, One Drive, [and] Box for file shares and collaboration, once again in the cloud. Many of our customers' client data resides in CRM systems like Salesforce, Dynamics, and Sugar once again in the cloud ... The on-premises financial data systems and storage in most cases have been replicated to off-premises data centers."

Champion also holds leadership team meetings on a daily basis to protect its own employees, Pyle wrote.

"Anyone that needs to take care of their homes and property can take off and do what they need to. We have remote help desks set up for our managed service clients, and we rely on our distributors to help with orders and movements. By the way, we run almost all of our business in the Microsoft Cloud so not much on-premises," he wrote.