Refuge In the Cloud: How Channel Partners and Telcos Survived Sandy
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Kate Kunkel
Posted on: 12/11/2012


Telecom customers in the East felt a massive impact from "Superstorm" Sandy, and when the storm hit, it forced many telcos and channel partners to make some quick decisions and deal with disaster.

With a variety of cloud-based communication services available, most companies found that the cloud can do more than just back up data and applications; it can save businesses.

Practicing Resiliency

Axcient, a cloud services provider based in California, helped companies ensure their digital environments were protected during the storm, allowing them to prevent downtime. All data and applications were backed up locally and replicated in the cloud, so even if the entire office were flooded, customers could still run their systems from the cloud.

"One of the impacts of the storm was the realization that cloud-based communication services are more resilient than purely on-premises solutions," Eric Weiss, Axcient's vice president of marketing, told Channel Partners.

Moving from a locally hosted solution to the cloud will help companies be better off when facing the next Sandy, Weiss added. He also said he wants to make sure that channel partners are protecting themselves from being vulnerable to these types of disasters.

"A lot of people think that they've 'checked the box' for protecting their business by backing up their folders and files, when they have not checked the box at all," Weiss said.

He explained that it could take customers weeks to set up a new server and complete installations, and the business would probably not be able to afford being shut down for that amount of time.  

Axcient offers seminars and Webinars to teach its customers how to protect themselves better, but Weiss said there is always more that companies can do.

"We just want to get the word out and help people protect their businesses," he added. "A lot of people put their blood, sweat and tears into building their [operations] over years, and if they're down for a week, it could kill their business."

The More Clouds, the Merrier

For a business that found itself in the heart of the storm, one theory in particular aided in its customers' survival: Two clouds are better than one.

McGraw Communications, a service provider based in New York, felt a massive impact from Sandy. More than 300 customers were affected by the storm that made many of their offices inhabitable.

Setting customers up with multiple carriers was a crucial focus for McGraw when dealing with the storm, said Frank Wassenbergh, the company's director of sales. Wassenbergh explained that using alternative technologies helped customers who could not get into their offices.

McGraw's cloud-services strategy centers around using multiple clouds rather than one because of what happens when clouds "get wet." "Everyone looks at the cloud as this magical place where unicorns are going to take care of your data and it's never going to go down," Wassenbergh said. " ... What happened is that this storm got the cloud wet, and the cloud went down."

Just as a customer should not use only one Internet provider, Wassenbergh said that people need to understand where their clouds are, how they might be impacted during disasters like Sandy, and how to diversify in different clouds.

"They shouldn't look at the cloud as this magical place that is going to solve all their problems," he added.

Preparation Is Key

Another company in the thick of the storm was prepared for power outages and system shutdowns with its cloud-based infrastructure.

Grudi Associates, a channel partner based in Palmyra, Penn., reached out to its clients before the storm to make sure redundancy was in place.

The company's president, Walt Grudi, said that employees were able to take client calls, look up circuit IDs and forward premise-based clients' phone calls to other locations as needed. As the hurricane approached, the company closed its physical offices, but employees worked remotely using virtual desktop infrastructure.

"Having that infrastructure in the cloud was critical for us to be able to respond to our clients and do what we do," Grudi said.

Migrating to the Cloud: A Wise Choice

Evolve IP, a cloud-services provider in Wayne, Penn., did not experience negative effects to its core operations, but the customer side was greatly impacted by power and access outages.

Scott Kinka, the company's CTO, told Channel Partners that the storm validated customers' decisions to move to the cloud.

"Many customers who had been considering proposals to move to the cloud, or who already had some services with us but not others, were forced into situations where they immediately needed to move some services to the cloud," Kinka said.

For several customers, their sites were unreachable, but most still had full use of their phones and unified communication services. Although they lost local power and connectivity, customers remained in business because their services were protected in the cloud, Kinka added.

Evolve IP plans to help its customers prepare disaster-recovery procedures for the future, and Kinka said he hopes to better educate customers on the various benefits offered through cloud services. "Planning disaster policies in the middle of the disaster" doesn't work, he said.

"These cloud products have intrinsic disaster-recovery capabilities in them," he said. " ... Many customers know they have them, but just don't consider the strategy of what they're going to do when (a disaster) happens."

Make Way for Extra Cloud Data

Leading up to Sandy, Nirvanix, a cloud storage provider based in San Diego, offered a disaster-avoidance program that allowed its customers to move their data to a safe location within the cloud at no additional cost.

During the week before the storm, many clients were moving data from East Coast data centers to a center in Los Angeles, according to Steve Zivanic, the company's vice president of marketing. Nirvanix added to its cloud capacity so that more people could move their data for "peace of mind."

Zivanic added that he wanted to make sure his customers understood the cloud's benefits, especially during this critical time.

"It's about giving [customers] flexibility and making them feel comfortable that they have this very flexible, very agile business continuity solution when there's a time of need," he said.

In the Deep, But Head Still Above Water

One New York-based company helped businesses with offices in four feet of water during the storm — its systems fully functioning during and after Sandy hit, all thanks to cloud-based features.

Russ Fordyce, Broadview Networks' managing director of marketing, said the company's core product was designed for disaster emergencies like Sandy. Customers could go online to change settings and have their calls sent to any other phone.

Fordyce also said the company sent out messages before the storm and told customers to set up auto-attendants, another planned action that saved many customers from losing business during the storm.

"Everything we had prepared for came to fruition, and we were able to literally avoid almost all of the effects of the disaster ... and we were in the deep of it — in four feet deep of it," he said.

Sighs of Relief

Telesphere, a cloud communications provider based in Scottsdale, Ariz., had eight customers in the way of Sandy's main surge. But when services went down, these companies were also saved by the cloud.

"All of [the companies'] profiles, all of their feature sets, everything that made their services work, were not at the location," said Clark Peterson, Telesphere's CEO. "It was in a Telesphere PoP, in a secure location that wasn't affected."

Peterson added that services were automatically rerouted during the storm, customers were able to put up weather-notification messages on their main lines, and Polycom phones were pre-distributed to customers in preparation for the storm, allowing users to take calls from home as if they were still in the physical office.

"Cloud services played 100 percent of the role in allowing us to keep their services going," said Sanjay Srinivasan, Telesphere's CTO.

Reflecting on how his company dealt with the storm, Peterson said he wants to better communicate how powerful cloud communications can be during the time of a disaster.

People who adopt the cloud realize that even if their offices are gone, they aren't going to lose a call, he added. Meanwhile, their neighbors may still be down weeks later, trying to figure out how to get their businesses up and running again.

Geoff Hester, the company's customer service and support manager, said that bringing awareness to customers about the cloud tools available was one of the most important actions the company took.

"We did hear sighs of relief from our customers who were impacted and were able to immediately resume business through our help," Hester said.