Stories From the Storm

This year was the second in a row that our kids had no Halloween because of a storm. This year’s storm was more devastating than last year’s. We hope that by the time you read this, you will have survived and recovered from two storms. Some of our customers could not shut down during the storm. Those with cloud-based solutions – Microsoft Exchange is a mere $4 per month – minimized their downtime and recovered faster.

In the wake of the storm, we can’t emphasize the cloud enough. In very simple terms, the “cloud” is a system of large servers and data storage facilities. “Cloud” providers almost always have redundant systems in widely scattered locations to avoid localized, devastating effects of storms, earthquakes and major power outages

At $4 a month per mailbox, Microsoft Exchange could have been a bargain. Just for email, all you and anyone in your business or family would have needed only to find Internet service for a smartphone, tablet or computer to stay in touch. Granted, it was a challenge or impossibility for most people. But, if you had your own mail server go down, not only did email not go through, emails sent to you started bouncing back after three days. It added to complications

If you put everything in the cloud instead of keeping programs and data on local servers, you can have even more protection. The cost of Microsoft Office 365 can be less than $20 a month for a small business and closer to $10 a month for home users. How many dollars per hour is your business or personal time worth? Do your own math and figure out your own ROI. Our guess is that you’ll make up the cost for a year in an hour or less. Remember, too, that the cost of Office 365 or any similar program includes the software licenses and automatic updates and upgrades.

Here are some of the problems you’ll be able to avoid – even though we did find ways to solve them.

One solution was cumbersome, but it worked. Our client needed to receive phone calls when cable and phone service went down. The problem was compounded by the fact that they did not have the password to reset their cable modem while it was on battery power.

We were able to install a “butt set” on their system and hooked it into where the phone line came in. This enabled us to manually forward phone calls to a cell phone number. The person with that cell phone then became the contact point for the business. He took the caller’s contact information and then called another person at his company. That person called back the customer or client.

It was not ideal, but it did help the company remain accessible and responsive during the weather emergency.

One of our customers has a business that requires them to make pick-ups. They depended on having access to documents during and immediately after the storm. By having those documents backed up to “the cloud,” which is really an off-site data storage center, we were able to help them stay in business. They told us which documents were needed and to whom to send those documents. We were able to access the documents and email them to their customers.

Going forward, it’s important to have a disaster plan in place. No matter what you believe about climate change or global warming, some facts are very clear:

  • Weather can have a profound effect on our ability to conduct business – and our ability to communicate with family and friends.
  • We may very well be in some sort of weather pattern that can have severe effects in our part of the country.
  • Disastrous effects can strike in unlikely places – such as inland locations that were flooded out with relatively little rain.
  • Technologies and capabilities are now available to help mitigate the effects of severe weather.

We believe the best action you can take is to set up as much of your servers, email, data and programs in the cloud as you possibly can. Cloud providers have back-up locations. So, in all likelihood, your systems should be up and running unless multiple disasters strike multiple locations at the same time. The more likely scenario is that if you have access to the Internet, you will be able to stay in touch and in business.

Cell towers are affected by power outages. Although they have battery back-up and maybe solar back-up power, heavy use will suck up that power very quickly. Use texting instead of email or voice wherever and whenever possible during a power outage. It uses less bandwidth and can help conserve a precious resource.

You and Your Cellular Provider

With cellular service likely to be your “lifeline” in the event of a power, phone and cable outage, you might want to contact your cellular provider ahead of any event. In some cases, they may give you an allowance for extra minutes or text messaging. You can also review your phone and data plan and increase your minutes and gigabytes.

Revising your plan could save you money. It will also give your provider a better idea of how much more capacity they’ll need to provide so they, too, can meet their emergency.

You need to line up as many alternatives as you can to ride out weather-related outages. It’s a business decision; you need to weigh the cost of having those alternatives against the cost of downtime. Having data and email available through the cloud may be relatively inexpensive.

We can help you develop a disaster plan and provide the accessibility you need to ride out the storm or survive outages. Email us or call us – 973-433-6676 – to discuss what should be in your emergency preparedness plan.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.