Indian IT firms prepared for Hurricane Sandy

Indian IT firms prepared for Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has got everyone scrambling. Many Indian IT services companies have issued advisories to employees travelling to the US and asked onsite engineers to work from home.

Hurricane Sandy forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets on Monday, sending coastal residents fleeing. PHOTO: AP Hurricane Sandy forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets on Monday, sending coastal residents fleeing. PHOTO: AP
Goutam Das
"It (Monday) was a scary night. As the wind gushed, I thought the window would crack," says Sangita Singh in a telephonic chat from the US. The head of Wipro's healthcare business has been stuck in a New Jersey hotel room since "superstorm" Sandy hit the US northeast. Singh, who had travelled to the US on a customer visit, had to get by in total darkness - the city had no power and the hotel's back-up power was supplied only to common areas.

Wipro had asked its employees to take heed of warnings about the storm, added Singh.

Hurricane Sandy has got everyone, including Indian IT services companies, scrambling. Many have issued advisories to employees travelling to the US and asked onsite engineers to work from home.

"As a precautionary measure, our Teaneck and Bridgewater offices will be closed on Monday, October 29," said a statement by IT services firm, Cognizant. "All associates in the potential impact zone have been advised to closely monitor local news stations and take sufficient precautions… We are prepared with business continuity measures to deal with any emergency."

Infosys, too, released a statement saying it has "undertaken requisite precautionary measures for the safety of our employees and continuity of business for our clients". The company is restricting business travel to the region for the next few days. "A few of our offices in the affected areas have been closed as a precautionary measure," the statement added.

Business continuity measures involve helping American customers switch data centres to protect their digital data. The US East Coast is dotted with banking and healthcare institutions, many of whom outsource IT services work to Indian companies.

iGate said that one of its banking and financial services customers in the region has issued a warning. If the client's data centre, near New Jersey, is flooded and needs to be shut down, it would immediately switch all operations to California, on the West Coast.

Chella Namasivayam, CIO and Head of Business Continuity Planning at iGate, says his company is constantly in touch with the customer and with telecommunication companies such as AT&T and Verizon through e-mails and audio conferencing. "Sandy is a major disaster recovery (DR) exercise. A team of six members is regularly communicating with customers and they are in good shape," he said.

Power outages, he added, may not impact customers since most of them have back-ups, such as UPS systems, in place. "Data centres per se may not be affected because they would be located on higher floors of a building. But if the power conditioning equipment, typically located in lower levels because of its weight, gets flooded, data centres may have to be shut down," says Namasivayam.

Standard Chartered, which has its US headquarters in midtown Manhattan, New York, has "invoked" business continuity planning protocol to safeguard systems and data. "There is no damage to our systems. Most are located in the UK and in Hong Kong," an executive from the bank's global technology operations office in India, said.

Morgan Stanley, too, invoked its Business Continuity Management Plan, which, a spokesperson from New York, explains "plans for a disruption of business activity. It includes the pre-positioning of staff in accessible locations, transfer of functions, if necessary, to other domestic and international offices, remote computing from home and the use of designated work-area recovery sites."

Many large American corporations first invested in and took disaster planning and recovery measures seriously after the 9/11 terror attacks.

"There are two ways to ensure business continuity. One is doing continuous online replication and the second is copying data onto tapes and sending them offsite. Since you can't predict disaster, continuous replication of data is a better technique," says Surajit Sen, Country Manager, Backup and Recovery System division of EMC India & SAARC.

Disaster recovery and business continuity are part of many existing IT contracts and, therefore, may not be a new business opportunity for Indian players.

Bala Palamadai is the Executive Vice President of IT services firm Microland's North America and Europe operations, and is based in San Jose. He says that the company provides disaster recovery as part of its IT infrastructure services. "The Sandy incident is evolving. But right now, the focus is on dealing with the flooding," he told Business Today in a telephonic chat.

On Tuesday, quoting EQECAT, a risk modelling firm, The Wall Street Journal reported that economic damages from the superstorm could range between $10 billion and $20 billion. AIR Worldwide, another catastrophe modelling company, says that insured losses from Sandy will range between $7 billion and $15 billion for onshore properties.