VARs Helping VARs: Joplin Company Returns The Favor After Hurricane Sandy
It’s oftentimes not easy to ask for help, even when you need it the most. But if you surround yourself with a great group of friends and partners, sometimes you don’t even have to ask. This was the case after Hurricane Sandy hit N.J.
For Carl Mazzanti, president of eMazzanti, a Hoboken, N.J.-based solution provider, help was something he didn’t think he would even need. And for several days after Hurricane Sandy swept through Hoboken, Mazzanti declined offers from several VARs to help through the recovery process.
As a proud businessman, eMazzanti had weathered many storms before. Mazzanti and his wife Jennifer Shine had opened the business just two weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001.
“Even during Hurricane Irene, we responded very quickly. We got a communication out to customers. We had engineers on staff calling people to help with preparations and had people in the field with what we considered high-risk accounts. We had 100 percent of our customers up and running come Monday after the hurricane,” Mazzanti told CRN in Sept. 2011. “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.
eMazzanti’s staff was doing the same thing as Sandy approached from the South, sucking up millions of gallons water from the Atlantic into her hurricane-force winds. As the storm hit land and continued inland, it deposited the water behind and left many coastal communities including Hoboken without power, heavily flooded or in ruins.
The VAR kept as normal a day as possible on Monday, Oct. 29, allowing some employees to work from home as the storm approached in the afternoon. About eight blocks away, the Mazzanti family rode out the storm in their home.
The following morning, Mazzanti walked to the office at 5 a.m. to survey the damage and get an assessment of what needed to be done.
“When I arrived and saw water significantly covering the floor in our office I moved to act quickly. But, more tragically all the blocks leading up to our office were totally underwater,” Mazzanti said.
Meanwhile, several VARs from around the country had been calling and texting Mazzanti since the weekend, offering to fly in and help with whatever recovery was necessary. Mazzanti said no.
One of those VARs, John Motazedi, president of SNC Squared, Joplin, Mo., knew too well what Mazzanti might be facing. SNC Squared’s headquarters was completely destroyed when a tornado tore through Joplin in May 2011. After that disaster, several VARs flew into Joplin to help and eMazzanti helped SNC get its email back within 90 minutes on its hosted platform. Motazedi was itching to return the favor.
“We were texting back and forth, and Tuesday it sounded like doom and gloom,” Motazedi said. “There was two feet of water in the street, and it was pouring down like a river. A good portion of his clients were without power. [eMazzanti] was without power completely, and he was having problems getting in touch with engineers. And when he did, they couldn’t get to New Jersey.”
Help On The Way
But, still, Mazzanti, of eMazzanti, rebuffed all offers from help.
“He said ‘We’re OK. We’re working on getting our clients back up.’ The same thing Wednesday. Thursday, I didn’t hear much,” SNC Squared’s Motazedi said.
In New Jersey, Mazzanti was struggling. His company, his customers and much of the Metro New York area were dazed from Sandy’s punch.
“Needless to say the community in Hoboken and many of our customers were shell shocked at the magnitude of the storm,” Mazzanti said. “Some rose to the challenge and made decisions on how to abate the water quickly, and others stuck their heads in the ground like ostriches hoping this would all just go away. The expectation was things would change quickly and get back to normal. But as each day passed and power was not restored, the tensions rose. The simplest of items you take for granted became life changing emergencies.”
Finally, Mazzanti had had enough. At 4:11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 2, he sent off an email to Motazedi, Brian Lillo of JSO Technology and Shawn Brown of Snap Technology that said he was kidding himself that he and his staff could keep up the pace. Help.
“Only when the team was burning out and the flood of tickets from customers was not abating did an email go out to those we knew would respond,” Mazzanti said. “The [cavalry] was brought in. That said, even as people were en route we doubted the need but by Sunday night, and an office filled with network engineers in various states of speaking with customers, was it clear the choice was correct.”
The VAR and his staff knew what they had to do, but there weren’t enough people to get it done, Mazzanti said. “The ball was going but people were burning out. They were super exhausted. We needed more resources, and I couldn’t manufacture those resources.”
Three hours later, Motazedi read the missive and was on an afternoon flight to New Jersey. Lillo, Brown and Randy Crockett of CCNS Consulting arrived on Saturday.
Having survived his own disaster, Motazedi packed his luggage with many items that he knew could be of great assistance during this time: energy bars, solar charges, power strips, extension cords, a weather radio, gloves and tools. “Everything we could take through an airport check in,” Motazedi said.
He arrived about 11:30 p.m., Friday, and was immediately taken aback by what he saw. “We drove through the city, and it was black. Pitch black. There was one little [section] that had light, which had to be a police or fire station,” Motazedi said.
The next day, Saturday, Mazzanti and Motazedi and the others were ready to go.
“[eMazzanti’s staff] was not sleeping. Our role was to ensure that we can be the brain power, if you want to call it, to not only do the technical work but also to be a sounding board. We think this is right, that’s not right,” Motazedi said. “They were running on six hours of sleep for a whole week. Not eating well. No power. It wasn’t good and the more it goes, the worse it gets.”
The team met as a group to assess the entire situation, including what worked, what didn’t work and then created a prioritized list of action items. Many of the VARs who flew in were C-level executives, but they were also engineers who could assess technical problems too.
A Plan Of Action
The team split. JSO’s Lillo and Snaptech’s Brown stayed behind to do some high-end engineering work and Mazzanti and SNC’s Motazedi visited several of eMazzanti’s customers to address their situations.
“I was able to ask the right questions because I’d been through it. I’d say ‘This is very key at this point. Yes, you think you fixed this, but this is what you need to do now,'” Motazedi said.
The next day, Sunday, Mazzanti utilized the VARs that flew in to give some employees a much-needed day off to tend to their families. “They had stuff they had to get done, but our stance was we wanted Monday to be a normal work day. Those guys that flew in, we kept the ball rolling,” Mazzanti said.
Meanwhile the VAR still had a big problem back home. The flooding in eMazzanti’s office, a lethal combination of saltwater and sewage, had destroyed all the electrical outlets and some network infrastructure in a data closet. Motazedi, Lillo and Brown went to Home Depot and bought a basket full of faceplates, plugs and other electrical supplies and changed all the network jacks and outlets at the eMazzanti office. “It was just disgusting. It smelled like burnt ‘stuff.’ It was just nasty,” Motazedi said. “Our purpose was to make sure their office was 100 percent functional for Monday morning so they wouldn’t have to worry about their own infrastructure.”
The group finished rebuilding and testing the office equipment and phones at near 1 a.m. on Monday. “We knew when they got to work the phone calls would start coming in but that was good because they were ready to go,” Motazedi said.
Mazzanti and Motazedi got a few hours sleep then visited some of eMazzanti’s biggest clients on Monday, even helping to move equipment from one location to another for at least one customer.
“We stayed up until about 2:30 Tuesday morning working on stuff. Then they started to prepare for the Nor’easter [snow storm],” Motazedi said. He went to bed for an hour before getting up to fly back to Joplin and SNC Squared.
Looking back, Motazedi wishes he hadn’t listened to Mazzanti’s early refusals and just went on his own intuition to help.
“What people don’t realize is this is bigger than all of us. I was just there for a few hours. It’s fantastic to be able to do something, and I’d do it again,” he said. “It never even crossed my mind not to go. It’s the thing I have to do.”
While it was initially difficult as a business owner to recognize that you are not capable of getting done the job that you always had done, Mazzanti said he will have a different view going forward.
“Lesson learned. Never wait,” he said. “Like many of our customers, with each passing day we thought that the worst was behind us, and we have such a long track record of success in the face of adversity there did not seem like the need to bring in help.”
eMazzanti Looks Ahead
Mazzanti offers tremendous thanks to the VARs that came to help after Hurricane Sandy.
“Everyone’s efforts were needed to be where we are today. We were in a constant full-court press to open the office on Monday. The folks who flew out made our Monday transition from our temporary office space back to our headquarters possible. Our existing staff had worked tirelessly to get our customers and us operational, but they were slowly burning out. There were no hands left idle and everyone who came worked hard.”
eMazzanti is now running at a normal level and service is back at pre-Sandy level, Mazzanti said.
“Some clients now have their systems in data centers, some have systems in the owner’s home with DYN/DNS remote access configured, and some have hybrid environments with cloud migrations for some services and on-premise for their line-of-business applications,” Mazzanti said.
Looking ahead, eMazzanti plans to have more formal business continuity service plans available to customers, which should help the company should another incident of this magnitude occur.
“In so many cases, we were on the phone or onsite educating customers on their options when time was not available to articulate and evaluate options,” Mazzanti said. “Those customers who waited, I believe, will take the hardest hit for their business this year as management simply could not select some course for their staff, their systems and their customers.
“Going forward we are going to take the direction of a smaller subset of recovery options to expedite action. Further, we have already enlisted firms outside of our geographic area to aid in assistance to help with the flood of requests and follow up.”
In addition, eMazzanti has adjusted its own infrastructure and additional remote sites to take on not only the VAR’s operations but also capacity to run multiple customers simultaneously,” Mazzanti said.
“For many in this last event, the pre-staged facilities would have cut off massive amounts of effort to recover their systems, and proactively we are putting this in place whether this will ever be needed or not,” Mazzanti said. “As I said earlier, lesson learned to not wait, specifically when the threat is of significant magnitude. Better to be prepared and not have to use the resources.”
Between the trip to New Jersey and two other conferences he previously scheduled to attend, SNC Squared’s Motazedi was gone from his family for 10 days. “I had a discussion with my wife and she said ‘That’s what you need to do. He needs you.’ My wife went through it too,” Motazedi said. “We were overwhelmed by the support we got. The least we can do is overwhelm their expectations.”