[ISN] Flood Waters Can't Sink Net Link
isn at c4i.org
Fri Sep 2 06:50:27 EDT 2005
By Joel Johnson
Sept. 01, 2005
Despite the loss of most public utilities, at least one hosting
company in hurricane-battered New Orleans is still online, fighting
against time and the odds to keep part of the internet humming.
Occupying the 10th floor of a downtown Big Easy office building, Zipa
 is a typical web-hosting and co-location center, with one key
difference: It's sitting smack dab in the middle of some of the worst
devastation the United States has ever experienced.
With buildings reduced to soggy ruin just a few blocks away, Zipa's
data center -- built by Enron in its expansionist heyday -- still
operates, powered by a 750-kilowatt diesel generator and connected to
the rest of the world by a fiber optic connection buried deep
underneath New Orleans' flooded streets.
That makes the employees of Zipa and sister company DirectNIC ,
which is just upstairs, some of the only flood victims in New Orleans
with the ability to communicate with the outside world.
It's an advantage they are quick to put to use. DirectNIC's "crisis
manager," Michael "Interdictor" Barnett, updates his Live Journal 
continually with on-the-street reports.
It may be the only blog currently both written and hosted inside New
Orleans, and it's receiving nearly 3,000 visitors an hour.
A webcam streams images from inside the data center, showing haggard
but smiling employees. Voice-over-IP telephones let stranded workers
make telephone calls even when the rest of the city's phone service is
severely overloaded. A photo gallery  is filled with pictures
uploaded by the dozen.
"We are still up and running," says Zipa's data center manager Michael
Brunson. "We have people on site and they are doing well. Even if they
need a bath."
The atmosphere is a strange mixture of corporate casual and martial
discipline. Men in shorts and polo shirts form squads to patrol and
secure the 27-story high-rise -- with no working elevators. Police and
National Guard members, separated from their cohorts, are using the
Zipa building as a staging point and shelter.
For Barnett, an Army Special Forces veteran, it's about more than just
protecting the companies' assets.
"I love this city, even with all its faults.... We're going to do what
we can to set it right," he said.
Supplies are scarce. A trip onto the streets of New Orleans to rescue
a customer's server was also a chance to scavenge 25 gallons of
potable water and some cleaning supplies (with the blessing of the
owner, who had just hired the company to go rescue his computer).
Employees stay primarily in the server room itself, enjoying the
pleasures of the air conditioning necessary to keep the servers cool.
Those servers host hundreds of thousands of websites and online
forums, including dyspeptic internet community Something Awful .
Something Awful's founder, Rich Kyanka, is taking the potential loss
of service in stride.
"Our last-ditch plan is to change the forums into a podcast, then send
RSS feeds into the blogosphere so our users can further debate the
legality of mashups amongst this month's 20 'sexiest' gadgets."
Kyanka hasn't yet been contacted by Zipa with contingency plans.
"As long as the servers stay up, they can stay out of contact for as
long as they like," he said.
But no amount of tenacity will keep Zipa's diesel generator fueled.
While currently operating at less than 20 percent of its full
capacity, the generator can't run forever.
"We should be able to stay up a few more days with what we have
in-house," said Brunson.
A fuel drop on Wednesday had to be abandoned because they weren't
ready with fuel drums, according to Barnett's blog.
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