IT declarations flooding into Comdisco

Disaster declarations are beginning to hit technology providers that help businesses recover their IT systems in the wake of catastrophic events.

By 3:45 p.m. EDT, Comdisco Inc. had fielded 60 disaster declarations from 29 companies -- primarily from financial service firms located in the New York area, according to John Jackson, president of the availability services division at the Rosemont, Illinois-based technology provider.

Comdisco is one of the largest disaster-recovery companies in the world.

The chief requests have been for work area space equipped with PCs and telephones, and support for a variety of midrange computer systems, including equipment made by Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

So far, no companies have declared a need for assistance from Comdisco with mainframes.

"This situation has to rank as the worst situation we have had to deal with, both from the standpoint of the number of customers as well as the impact on our customers," Jackson said.

Companies such as Comdisco can completely reconstitute a company's front- and/or back-office systems in locations outside a disaster area. For Comdisco, that means that 13 recovery facilities -- including one in Queens, New York, two in northern New Jersey, two in suburban Chicago and one in suburban Boston -- have been called on to support customers in need of disaster-recovery assistance. Companies seeking help include brokerages, investment banking firms, insurance businesses and one of the trade exchanges.

Comdisco's first disaster declaration came in today at 9:05 a.m. EDT, followed by a steady stream of additional requests. Some companies have multiple contracts with Comdisco.

That far surpasses the worst disaster that Comdisco had on record. Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, produced 32 disaster declarations; the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 led to eight disaster declarations.

Jackson said today's disaster will prove more difficult for many companies to deal with since this time the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, and paper-based and computer records may have been destroyed.

"Back in '93, once the buildings had been stabilized, the police allowed some of our customers to re-enter the buildings, so they were able to remove PCs, servers, paper-based records," Jackson said. "In this case, the towers have now collapsed.

"There's a tremendous amount of loss in this event that wasn't the case in '93 or in some of the other situations," Jackson added. "If a hurricane hits and the building gets flooded or damaged, you can still pull some stuff out of there."

Comdisco has some customers who had significant operations in the World Trade Center, but the company also has been fielding requests from customers who are coping with building evacuations in Boston and Chicago, forcing them to move key employees into Comdisco's relocation facilities in suburban areas. Comdisco's new 302,000-square-foot Carlstadt, New Jersey, facility, for instance, can support 1,000 workers and up to 16 different computer systems.

"We learned from the World Trade Center [bombing] in '93 that New York City was very susceptible to work-area type of recoveries [as differentiated from] computer system recoveries," Jackson said. Due to the high cost of real estate in New York, "a lot of the New York companies have moved their mainframe systems to New Jersey and are using the space in New York for offices and for business functions."

Comdisco declined to provide customer names. HP currently has a pending bid to acquire Comdisco's services business. Comdisco announced the bid on July 16, the same day the company filed for bankruptcy.

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