In The News

Tech firms waiting for power: Computers are vital for business

By Stephanie Myers
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
July 28, 2003

(This article is no longer available online at the Commercial Appeal's web site.)

For one information technology firm without power, the countdown to back to business as usual is measured in traffic lights.

"The red lights are getting closer to us," said Tim Sewell, staffing consultant with Cornerstone Consulting. "The first morning, there were none. Then there were two, and (Thursday) there were five or six. (The power) is getting closer now."

Tuesday's storm-induced power outage,which has affected the whole city, has had a definite impact on information technology firms - who rely on computers for their lifeblood - around the city.

Bartlett-based Cornerstone had to delay several jobs, including one at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, because of the power outages, Sewell said.

The company's main office is without power, so its consultants have been moving from customer site to customer site to keep up the billable hours.

Others haven't been quite as unlucky.

At WorldSpice Technologies in Memphis, it's been business as usual. Fortunately, the Internet service provider had a back-up generator and has been able to continue to operate around the clock.

The firm allows companies who have downed servers due to cuts in the line or links put their servers on WorldSpice's network to enable business to function as normal.

But the storm has brought in some extra jobs from the company's normal clients.

At the NBC tower, there was a cut in the fiber link that provides Internet access to the building, so WorldSpice is rerouting the line, said Blake Weber, chief operating officer.

Memphis Networx, a fiber optic network operator, was also able to avoid large problems through its redundant network, which allows traffic to switch directions when there is a cut in the fiber.

The network is constructed in a way that customers won't be affected by changes in the fiber.

"We built the network for this (natural disaster) to happen," said Charles Elliott, director of marketing and service operations.

However, even without problems with customers, the Memphis Networx team has had their hands full with keeping up with city crews to know when an area has been cleared so they can do their own work and to make sure there are no more cuts in the underground fiber.

The outage proved not to be a major problem to FedEx's IT division, which has a contingency plan and back-up service for stormy situations.

FedEx was saved by a combination of their normal system and some back-up plans that were implemented.

"We were mostly affected by employees who couldn't make it to work," said spokesman Traci Barnett.

For Lan One Solutions, a small computer and telecommunications consultant, the power outage has brought a new perspective on creating client solutions.

Lan One is in the Emerge Memphis building downtown, which never lost power, but things have been frenzied around the office just the same, said managing partner Jerry Hoehn.

"Most of our customers are without power and phones," Hoehn said. "We have to take each situation individually. It's been hectic."

For several clients, Hoehn has arranged for rerouting of phone lines to home or cell phones so the companies can maintain business.

For others, the firm provided batteries in the initial hours of the power outage, and for one, Hoehn said, the company provided a laptop and server for the client to make out payroll checks.

"Most people are asking, 'What can you do?' But there's really not much we can do," Hoehn said. "Beyond (a few things), we're dead in the water."

At other IT firms, the power was lost and then turned back on, but time has been lost on programming deadlines.

"We got power (Thursday) morning," said Bill Snodgrass, partner in Web-Net Solutions, a Web page design firm. "We were afraid that after another day or two, people would start getting impatient, but our customers have been great."

Web-Net closed Tuesday and Wednesday when the Lakeland building was without power.

"We couldn't have done a lot with no Internet connection," Snodgrass said. "But now we're two production days behind on programming and the deadline doesn't change."

WorldSpice Technologies - 901.843.9300