Blackout highlights enterprise need for backup plans

Despite last month’s debilitating power outage, for many Ontario-based enterprises it was still business continuity as usual in the wake of the catastrophe, according to a couple of IT managed services providers.

When the largest blackout in North American history left 50 million people in the dark in parts of Canada and the United States on the afternoon of Aug. 14, Osama Arafat’s company was busy making phone calls.

Arafat, CEO of hosting service provider Q9 Networks, said the Toronto-based company’s contingency plans involved dealing with concerned organizations and proactively informing clients that data and connectivity was still available.

“In a lot of cases, we ended up helping some customers where they temporarily moved some servers,” Arafat said. In addition to two diesel back-up generators -one for redundancy – Arafat noted Q9 was also running UPS battery banks, which act as a buffer between utility and backup power.

Q9’s connectivity to major service providers across Canada ensured that companies outside the affected areas still had uninterrupted access, Arafat said.

Toronto-based Fusepoint Managed Services Inc. followed a similar contingency plan. Despite it all, it is still “business as usual,” said Robert Offley, CEO at Fusepoint. Offley noted the blackout has exposed organizations that are ill-prepared to deal with major disruptions to their operations.

According to Offley, the need for proper business continuity and disaster recovery planning services – along with the trusted suppliers and expertise to provide them – has never been so acute.

While companies like Q9 and Fusepoint have taken measures to ensure their customers stay up and running in a state of emergency, findings of a study released last month have left a dim forecast on enterprises in the wake of the big outage.

TOPCALL Corp., maker of business communications systems in Malvern, Pa., discovered that a whopping 43 per cent of the 54 companies surveyed did not have a disaster recovery plan in place for their communications systems in the event of a failure.

In the week following the blackout, Ontario’s state of emergency was still in effect and The Independent Electricity Marketing Operator (IMO) was threatening to institute rolling blackouts if electricity demand outstripped supply. Such circumstances pointed to the fact that enterprises still have to be on guard.

On Aug. 17, Province of Ontario officials requested that along with the general public, those in the business and industry sectors try to conserve energy throughout the week as the power grid was still at less than maximum strength.

Still, for some high tech workers with mission-critical activities hanging in the balance the day after the outage, where there was a will, there was a way. Frank Morassutti, certified consulting server specialist with IBM Canada, in Markham, Ont., chose to work from home despite the power failure.

“I was at home, I had my laptop plugged into my cigarette lighter in the car with about a 50-foot phone cable extension to the garage,” where he was working, Morassutti explained.

Although IBM Canada’s office was up and running that day, Morassutti and fellow workers had been told to continue to work from home to reduce office power requirements, as per the Ontario government’s orders.

– With files from IT World Canada Staff

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