Solution Providers Battle Business Continuity Issues In Hurricane Matthew Aftermath

Hurricane Matthew is gone and across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, lights are coming on, roadways are being cleared and floodwaters are slowly, slowly starting to dissipate.

But even as evacuation orders were being lifted in the counties hardest hit, it wasn't business as usual this week. Not even close.

Earlier this week, on the main drag in Florence, S.C., a 104-year-old office building sat empty on the first floor with the windows open. A gas generator chugged and idled just outside its back door, its cables reaching up to the second story. On that floor, HillSouth CEO Robby Hill and many of his 21 employees who could safely make it to work were huddled in four small rooms, where they could get power.

[Related: Data Storage, Safety Are Top Of Mind As Solution Providers Brace For Hurricane Matthew]

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The building's entryway is damaged from the wind and rain; the doorway will have to be rebuilt. "It was like a waterfall coming into my lobby," Hill said, describing the moment just as the storm hit hardest.

The cellular service was working and, on Monday, employees were calling back customers and helping them sort out their IT troubles. Both internet connections in HillSouth's building were down so Hill, for a while, borrowed a DSL connection from a neighboring business.

"I've been feeding my employees breakfast and lunch and we're shutting down the lights at night," Hill told CRN on Friday. He's upbeat but the concerns and worry for his neighbors are constant. "This is really just devastating. It's frustrating because we're living in this tragedy and nobody knows it," he said.

As of Sunday morning, about 680,000 Duke Energy customers were without power. Fewer than 60,000 of those customers are still without power as of Thursday, but the floodwaters are receding so slowly that some areas, including parts of Florence, might be too dangerous to work on for up to nine days, Duke Energy said in a statement Thursday.

In South Carolina alone, as of Tuesday, FEMA had distributed more than 267,000 meals, 400,000 liters of water and 4,400 blankets to residents hit by flooding and storm damage. Locally, Hill says Florence is preparing to host several groups from FEMA sent to help the region recover.

Hill, who sits on Florence's city council, said the council suspended procurement rules for the first time in its history to make it easier for businesses to quickly hire help with hurricane cleanup. Grace periods were also extended to keep residents from having their city water service shut off due to lack payment.

For HillSouth's customers – about 200 businesses all across South Carolina, mostly in health care – the prognosis is good. HillSouth's data center is located further inland and no catastrophic losses were reported. Basic business continuity, though, is always an issue as schools are closed and employees have varying degrees of difficulty reaching their offices.

"We helped countless customers turn their servers off and systems down before the hurricane hit," Hill says. "All of my coastal customers expected flooding and took precautions." But even with data backed up and stored out of harm's way, "the best [disaster recovery] strategy in the world doesn't work if you can't get power," Hill said.

Many companies in the path of Hurricane Matthew were relocating storage devices and using cloud backup to reach critical data.

Datto's "Code Red" team of dedicated support specialists worked 31 cases for partners; all but 10 had been completely resolved as of Thursday, according to Zac Shannon, manager of support operations for Datto. "Overall, it went pretty smoothly compared to what we were expecting," Shannon told CRN.

Shannon had predicted that 500 businesses – end-user customers of Datto – were in Hurricane Matthew's direct path. On Thursday he said probably between 300 and 400 companies did something to their Datto devices as a result of the storm.

Some moved their Datto devices out of the storm's path and reconnected elsewhere, Shannon said. Others backed them up, switched them off and evacuated, while later being able to use Datto's cloud to access their data.

"We had a 48 percent increase in virtual machine launches in our cloud, which is really significant, but it went off without a hitch," Shannon said.

The data safety and recovery, of course, is but one dimension of the overall story as many start putting their lives back together after a storm.

"As I was walking around [Datto's support center] on Friday, one guy looked at me and said he picked up a call, heard someone talking through loud wind and what sounded like rain, and then the line went dead," Shannon said.