As powerful Hurricane Rita barrels toward the Texas and Louisiana coasts, about 25 employees of Houston-based Web hosting vendor EV1Servers.net are hunkered down inside the company's offices and two data centers, ready to ride out the storm and maintain services for their customers.
Since early this week, the company has been making storm preparations, from bringing in a redundant backup emergency generator to sending nonessential workers to join the evacuations ordered by the city.
This time, many tech businesses are better prepared than in 2001, when Tropical Storm Allison inundated Houston with torrential rain in early June 2001, flooding much of the downtown.
Robert Marsh, CEO of EV1Servers.net, said lessons learned from Allison four years ago included relocating essential electronic equipment to higher floors from basements, where critical communications and IT equipment was swamped during Allison. "There was certainly a lot of that going around" at the time, he said.
EV1 is a managed Web hosting company that owns and manages some 25,000 hosted servers for business customers. A separate division provides Internet access for about 300,000 customers.
To get ready for Rita, EV1 sent seven Web technicians to a hotel in Wichita. The technicians, who handle customer trouble tickets, will be in an emergency call center established to help customers after the storm passes. The workers were sent to Kansas in a chartered jet early Thursday.
In Houston, EV1's 25,000 servers are located in two data centers housed in concrete buildings designed to sustain Category 4 storms, he said. "We have absolute confidence in our facilities," Marsh said. "But it becomes a little dicey when you look at the transport backbone to the Internet," which could be disrupted by downed lines and other storm-related problems.
For that reason, EV1 has redundant services with seven bandwidth providers using 28 separate 1-Gigabit links. "We have the ability with at least one of those carriers to provision new service" if needed within hours, not days, he said. "If we lose one provider, if we lose two providers, we're probably still in good shape. If we lose four carriers, then we'd have a problem."
The company hosts more than 1 million Web sites on its servers.
Inside its data centers, the company has many spare parts on hand, including IT equipment and parts for the building's air conditioning, electrical and other systems, he said. Also standing by in case they are needed are an air-conditioning specialist and an electrical specialist. In addition to emergency generators, the buildings have 10,000-gallon supplies of fuel, and standing deliveries of additional fuel from nearby fuel depots if needed.
Flooding is not a concern, Marsh said, because even the 36 inches of rain dumped by Allison never caused water to threaten the buildings.
As for the EV1 personnel riding out the storm, cots, blankets and other essentials have been gathered for them, and for some of their family members who were not able to evacuate. Employees were allowed to park their personal vehicles in the company's warehouse to protect them from damage.
Marsh, who will ride out the storm with his employees, said he has already received offers of poststorm help from competing Web hosting companies in Dallas and New Orleans.