Houston Web Hosting Firm Braces For Hurricane - InformationWeek

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9/22/2005
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Houston Web Hosting Firm Braces For Hurricane

EV1Servers, the eighth-largest Web host, has boarded up its data centers and sent a small technical team to Kansas to open up shop there, mobilized cash reserves, and reduced its on-site staff to a minimum.

A major Web hosting firm in Houston has hunkered down in preparation for Hurricane Rita, boarding up its data centers, sending a small technical team to Kansas to open up shop there, mobilizing its cash reserves, and reducing its on-site staff to a minimum, said the company's chief executives in a series of messages to customers.

EV1Servers, which by U.K.-based Web tracking firm Netcraft's numbers, is the eighth-largest Web host, operates some 1.1 million host names and over 642,000 active sites. EV1Servers claims its networks oversee 1.5 percent of all U.S. traffic.

Its two Houston data centers are being prepared for the worst, chief executive Robert Marsh wrote in a message to customers Wednesday. "We anticipate that the coming storm will have no impact on our operations. However, we are prepared to deal with any eventuality."

The hosting firm's preparations include stockpiling 10,000 gallons of diesel for the four generators -- two at each data center -- that will provide backup power if necessary, activating lines of credit and withdrawing cash, dispatching technicians and their families to a secondary support center to Wichita, Kansas, and communicating with upstream bandwidth providers to make sure they have disaster and contingency plans in place.

"Preparations continue 24/7. A core staff of approximately 25 will be on hand throughout the storm. This includes a facilities specialist as well as an a/c specialist," Marsh said late Wednesday evening. "We are monitoring the storm on a continual basis. Our buildings are designed to withstand Cat[agory] 4 conditions. It would be a highly improbable situation for us to sustain a cat 4 this far inland. It is anticipated that we will see high Cat 3 conditions based upon the current track and our location."

As of mid-day Thursday, Hurricane Rita was rated by the National Hurricane Center as a Category 5 storm, the most severe ranking possible, with winds exceeding 165 mph. Rita was approximately 460 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, and moving toward the west-northwest at about 9 miles per hour.

The last Category 5 hurricane to hit U.S. shores was Andrew, which pummeled Florida in 1992.

EV1Servers' plans to shift a technical support group hit a hitch, however, and forced Marsh to shift gears. "Due to the congestion in getting out of the city, our plan to evacuate a minimal crew to Kansas by van and limo was modified. We have a chartered jet that will be landing at IAH to pick up 7-8 of our webtechs and other personnel that will set up a temporary center there," he said Thursday morning.

The company also told non-essential workers not to come in Friday or on the weekend, and instead figures to run the two datacenters -- which have been boarded up against the winds and possible debris -- with small staffs.

Customers of the hosting company which commented on the message forum were almost universally supportive, but many reflected a sense of urgency gained from seeing what happened during Hurricane Katrina.

"Backup! Now!" wrote one customer identified only as "Xaox." "Your backups need to be somewhere other than Houston (or the Gulf coast for that matter)."

For the interested, EV1Servers has several live Webcam feeds from its datacenters available from its Web site. Unlike the Webcam feed produced by the New Orleans-based DirectNIC during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, however, these cameras only show interiors.

Marsh did not reply to an interview request made by e-mail and phone, no surprise since in another posting to the message forum, he cautioned customers to "not call our offices or open [technical support] tickets with inquiries related to storm status or plans. It is unreasonable to expect that we could respond to them while we are working critical tickets and emergencies."

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