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Solution Providers And Their Customers Prep For Tropical Storm Barry

Solution providers are on alert with their disaster recovery plans for customers as Tropical Storm Barry, which this weekend is expected to grow to a full-fledged hurricane, looks set to hit already-flooded New Orleans.

Solution providers and their customers are busy applying what they have learned from previous disasters, particularly from several recent hurricanes, as they get ready to meet an expected onslaught from Tropical Storm Barry.

Tropical Storm Barry is expected to become Hurricane Barry by Sunday or Monday and hit much of that state just 12 years after Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes in history, devastated much of New Orleans.

Tropical Storm Barry is expected to add to the severe flooding in New Orleans from this week’s strong storms and waterspouts.

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

It is an event that solution providers have been planning for for some time.

Corus360, which provides disaster recovery and business continuity services for the state of Louisiana, is on alert, said Steve Johnson, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based solution provider.  

"Since Monday, we have been sending alerts to customers tracking a couple of storms," Johnson told CRN. "On Wednesday, we started firing up our mainframe environment and everything else we need to do to prepare, including hot sites, three mainframes, tape drives, and our Commvault and Veeam recovery services. We have a 650-seat recovery center, and a contract with [Denver-based] Agility Recovery so if clients need a mobile workspace, we can bring it."

Steve Gruber, vice president of Corus360's RES-Q services, told CRN that the RES-Q disaster recovery and business continuity service started in 2006, right after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other disaster recovery companies couldn't handle the disaster.

"We started with quick-shipping of boxes to where customers needed IT equipment right away," Gruber said. "We still do that today. We still ship hardware to customers who need it for lesser-critical systems."  

For Tropical Storm Barry, Corus360 has an internal team watching the storm's progress and sending out bulletins to customer using the latest information from NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Gruber said.

"We're not sure where it will hit," he said. "But we know it's coming. However, clients are focused on their business. They may not have started disaster recovery preparations. If you have a lot of tape, for instance, if you're not acting now, you may not get your tapes to where they need to be on time."  

For some customers, no matter how much education their solution provider provides, they just do not prepare for disasters in time, Gruber said.

"Last year, we had one customer which spent money every month on its disaster recovery strategy, but which is just hunkering down and covering equipment with tarps," he said. "And we have customers who never test their disaster recovery systems."  

Corus360 makes sure that customers who do not do disaster recovery testing know they do so at their own peril, Gruber said.

"We will do our best efforts if they haven't tested but are hit by a disaster," he said. "But there are a lot of steps to take in a disaster, especially for clients with different operating systems and storage media. If they have done tests, we will run DR against the runbook for the tests. But if they don't show up with the data, or don't declare a disaster, we might not be able to help."

The state of Louisiana is one customer that is in a state of readiness, Gruber said.

"They have already put us on alert, which is one step from declaring a disaster," he said. "If the state declares a disaster, it's all-hands-on-deck for us. They have already rehearsed for disaster recovery."

The Louisiana government takes disaster recovery seriously, Gruber said. "We've been a longtime partner with them. We're ready for anything that happens. The state dramatically increased its level of preparedness after Hurricane Katrina."

Corus360 does the same scenarios for corporate customers, Gruber said.  

"We send notifications and storm updates," he said. "Our account managers are in touch with each customer asking if there were any changes in their schedules."

It is also important to keep up with changes in customers' IT infrastructures, Gruber said.

"When we put a contract together, customers tell us the resources, from compute to storage to networking, that they need us to prepare in case of a disaster," he said. "If they don't tell us about any changes in their infrastructure, we still prepare for a disaster based on what was in the contract. If they originally had dual-core processors in the contract but now have quad-core, or now 60 TB of capacity instead of the 40 TB they originally told us about, we will give them the resources and settle later."

However, Gruber said, Corus360's RES-Q service has about 150 customers who have access to the solution provider’s entire disaster recovery capabilities, covering from IBM mainframes to IBM Power servers to all x86-based servers.

"We're nimble," he said. "We've never been in a situation where we oversubscribed."  

Salim Gheewalla, manager of marketing and alliances at Computex Technology Solutions, told CRN the Houston-based solution provider services two types of customers.

For its managed services customers, which Computex hosts in its own Houston-based data center, it provides a waterproof, smokeproof and fireproof infrastructure with four redundant network connections along with a failover data center in the company's Minnesota office, Gheewalla said.

"We provide a tier-two, SOC 2 [Service Organization Control] data center that has to be tested and audited," he said. "We test our data center twice a year."

For enterprise customers, Computex offers failover compatibility, Gheewalla said.

"We architect a plan for the data centers or networks, and look at what happens in a disaster," he said. "So now Louisiana customers are getting priority backups. They're getting backed up more often. When the hurricane season started, we reached out to them to make sure they were ready."  

Computex customers in the Louisiana area are primarily off-shore oil rigs, Gheewalla said. "We met with them before the hurricane season started," he said.

Computex has a network operations center running 24x7 to actively watch and monitor customers, and has a 99.9 percent uptime history, Gheewalla said.

Bret Meche, owner of Premier Data Systems, an Opelousas, La.-based solution provider, told CRN via email that his company has a specific series of steps it takes to help protect customers in case of a disaster.  

First, Meche wrote, the company verifies that it has good customer backups from its vendor partner Datto that can be virtualized for recovery if needed. It then assists customers with powering down racks and unplugging critical network lines. "Most of the damage we have seen from hurricanes in our area have been power- or lightning-related," he wrote.

For several of its customers, Premier Data Systems has documented the process of what to unplug and shut down as well as how to get things back up, which is important given that personnel may be unavailable after a hurricane because of damage to their homes or the need to evacuate, or may be tied up helping other customers, particularly those who are not managed services clients, Meche wrote.

"Our biggest challenge after a hurricane is limited resources, even if we have a full staff we never have enough to fill the need after the storm," he wrote.  

Jason Silva, principal at Houston-based solution provider Revel Technology, told CRN via email even though Barry's path looks like it will spare Houston and southeast Texas, his company began contacting its managed services customers, particularly those using managed backup and recovery services, earlier this week.

"We are always wary from previous events where a storm path has changed at the last minute," Silva wrote. "We engaged our customers early to verify and show that their off-premise and cloud-based backup and recovery capabilities are up to date, functioning, and available for recovery purposes."

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