'Not Alone': Solution Providers, Vendors Help Customers, Each Other As Harvey Soaks Houston

Iland Technologies CTO Justin Giardina was scheduled to talk about cloud computing this week at VMworld in Las Vegas. Instead, Giardina is at a local Houston church, helping families find shelter as they escape the wrath of Harvey, a hurricane that turned into a record shattering tropical storm.

"We tried to get employees out of Houston on Friday," said Dante Orsini, senior vice president of business development and a colleague of Giardina's at Houston-based solution provider iLand. "Unfortunately, Justin and some others weren't able to make it out. Some iLand employees needed to abandon their homes."

Between Friday and Monday, the storm intensified, Houston's airports closed, and conditions worsened. Folks who left Houston on Friday, unsure of the storm's lingering potential, suddenly weren't able to return when the catastrophic flooding began.

"The guilt of the people who are at VMworld, who can't help their family right now – that's the thing that is driving some crazy," Orsini said.

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

iLand has been helping Houston customers with disaster recovery and backup services in preparation for and during the storm.

"We saw folks reaching out in desperation over the weekend where our team was working around the clock to help anybody that needed to move data from their corporate environment to Dallas or some other city," said Orsini. "It's been full steam ahead for us from a business perspective. Thankfully, most people who already have recovery plans with us have the ability to initiative failovers on their own or engage our team for help."

Fellow Houston-based solution provider Centre Technologies is in constant communications with local customers, according to Patricia Gonzalez, Centre's director of sales and marketing.

"We have email center updates going out at least three times a day, letting customers know about the weather, how their data is being protected, and then next steps," said Gonzalez.

"We sent out earlier today all of the volunteer organizations that they can reach out to. We're actively telling them, 'Here's what we're seeing, here's how it's going.' And we're not just sending emails. We're sending text messages and picking up the phone and letting them know."

Gonzalez said she was also "amazed" at the outreach from vendors like Cisco and Dell, "These manufacturers have all stepped us to say, 'Hey, Centre Technologies, we know you're headquartered in Houston, we see all this flooding is happening. We're sending this your way.' They're sending links to where our employees can donate and information that our customers need to stay relevant," said Gonzalez.

"It's been amazing to see us do what we do, but to see a community of technology leaders in this industry step up and say, 'Hey Centre, what do you need?' That's inspiring," she said. "I'm talking about Cisco, Dell – even our distributors like Ingram Micro to Tech Data – everybody is sending messages about, 'How can we help?' It's a great feeling to feel like you're not alone."

Cisco, for example, has launched a $500,000 disaster response campaign to support the American Red Cross in efforts to provide aid to Houston. The Cisco Foundation will match donations up to $10,000 per employee.

Solution providers told CRN that, remarkably, no flood damage had occurred inside any customers' data centers.

Much like the size of Houston, the reach of Harvey's devastation is hard to comprehend. The combined metropolitan statistical area of Houston, from downtown Houston to Galveston Bay, is more than 8,700 square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey. To drive through the counties covered by FEMA's Major Disaster Declaration on August 25 would take about five hours.

"[The rain] has been constant, anywhere from steady to severe, with few breaks since Saturday," said Conroe, Texas, resident Andrea Quezada, who is more than 250 miles Northeast of where Harvey first made landfall. Though not flooded, Quezada said her half-acre property is covered with about an inch of water.

The National Weather Service in Houston confirmed that Harvey set a record for total rainfall from a single tropical storm in the U.S., with two weather stations in the area reporting rainfall totals over 51 inches.

Update to the rainfall record: 51.88" has been reported at Cedar Bayou and FM-1942 as of 3:40 PM CDT today

With people and resources so spread out, solution providers emphasize that communication and disaster planning are critical for all businesses. Accudata Systems, a solution provider on the Northwest side of Houston, had been going through its disaster recovery plan since Friday, making sure departments were covered and letting employees leave as needed to stay safe and prepared.

"It goes to show that you need good communication … we have planned out structured check-in routines between management, departments and team members," Accudata Systems CEO Patrick Vardeman told CRN. "Everyone's situation has changed since Friday – some have experienced flooding or lost power, while others who may have been fine on Monday now have two feet of water in their houses."

Vardeman said about 10 percent of Accudata's workforce has been displaced by the flooding. "These employees will have to go through the challenge of finding a new place to live … we need to help them through the challenge of finding a new place to live … we need to help those employees get through this stressful time," he said.

-- Phil Harvey contributed to this report.