From Ice Storm to the Cloud

It’s Wednesday, December 4th in Dallas/Ft. Worth and a beautiful, sunny 79 degrees; a bit warm for this time of year, but not unusual.  I go to bed Thursday night December 5th and it is 28 degrees and sleeting sideways.  In 24 hours we have dropped 50 degrees.  As crazy as this is, this is typical Texas weather.  With the onslaught of rain in subfreezing temperatures, we, like most companies, have implemented our inclement weather policy and warned our employees to take their laptops home and be prepared to work from home on Friday. december-2013-ice-stormSure as shootin’, I wake up Friday morning December 6th around 1 a.m. to a loud ‘crack’ and then ‘BOOM’; game on.  Trees are snapping, transformers are exploding on power lines, all goes dark.  Five hours later as the sun rises we now can see, it is 20 degrees and there is over an inch of solid ice on every surface.   The entire Dallas/Ft. Worth area shuts down.  The ensuing drama plays out on every local and national TV station; showing the horrible conditions as motorists are trapped on roadways, some for over 26 hours.

People not living in our area often believe we are overly dramatic about weather and we ‘just don’t know how to drive’.  Well, we do have our fair share of bad drivers, but as one ‘northerner’ was interviewed on TV described – down here it is just different because it is ice; you can drive on snow, but you can’t drive on ice, no matter what you are driving.

Having lived in Texas for over 30 years, I know these things can happen and know what to expect, so I stocked up on groceries the day before the storm, which was no easy task with many of the aisles bare of their normally stocked goods.  I also tried to fill my truck with gas, but was unable to because the stations were already out of gas.  This stuff is real!

On Friday morning I had to satisfy my curiosity and get out there to see for myself, so I layered up and walked around my block.  It was something out of a high-budget action flick; every single street surrounding my block had at least one large tree down across it, with exponentially more down in yards, on cars, houses, etc.  Power was out and we were warned that it may not be back on until Sunday or Monday – 3-4 days without power in sub-freezing temperatures is serious!

On Saturday night around 7 p.m., while sitting on the couch by the fire trying to stay warm, I was startled out of my seat by a huge ‘BOOM’; yet another transformer exploded.  This time I ventured outside to see what was going on.  I met some nice men from the Alabama Power Company; yes they came all the way from Alabama to help out, who told me as they worked on repairs they often triggered more outages, much like patching a leak in a hose only to find another down the line.  It would be another 24 hours before power was restored.

This drama played out continuously over a Metroplex area with over 7 million people.  Travelers were stranded with over 3,000 people sleeping at DFW airport and truckers abandoning their rigs on the road with nowhere to go and no gas to get them there.  The impact on every household and person was palpable, but what would be the impact come Monday to all those businesses?

As an IT services company, we expect more calls during dramatic events as this and we got them.  As of my writing this, we have had three clients down due to power outages in their building with many more to come.  The cruel irony with each of these clients is they each have plans to migrate their systems from their office to the cloud in the near future, unfortunately, not soon enough.  There is very little we can do to help them until power is restored and then do whatever possible to restore systems.  A couple of these clients are in businesses whose busiest time of the week is during the weekend; for these clients the outage has a significant business impact, not just a mere inconvenience.

Despite our own planning, we did not come away unaffected.  We had two engineers in sunny San Jose, California working on our cloud datacenter there that could not get back home.  Their return was scheduled for Friday and they, like thousands others, were stranded.  The effects are still being felt today, as we have another employee unable to fly in for meetings this week.  The ripple effect is stunning.

But we are the lucky ones because our staff was productive and able to assist clients because we have two things many businesses did not – 1. Our systems are in the cloud, in a protected datacenter accessible anytime, anywhere. 2. We have a plan we implemented BEFORE the weather event hit, which enabled everyone to work from home.  The last thing we want is to put any of our employees in danger by making them feel they must ‘tough it out’ and get to the office.

We never want traumatic events such as this to impact our clients businesses and certainly would never say ‘we told you so’, but the reality is our clients who are in the cloud were silently working away with no complaints.  The events of the past 72 hours will undoubtedly ‘convert’ many who have waited on utilizing cloud services.  Meetings will be urgently scheduled by businesses in the coming days and weeks to define plans to ensure ‘this doesn’t happen again’ because we know our Texas weather surely will.

Check out our full Ice Storm album on our Facebook Page: