Spokane Journal of Business

IT-Lifeline, Red Lion eye disaster plan

Hotel would be makeshift call center for customers that lose data operations

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Liberty Lake high-tech concern IT-Lifeline Inc. is working with Spokane-based hotelier Red Lion Hotels Corp. to offer call-center operators the space and equipment needed to get up to hundreds of workers back on line within 48 hours if their workplace suffers a catastrophe.

IT-Lifeline, an eight-year-old company that provides data backup and disaster recovery services, already offers its customers use of a 100-plus-seat center at its offices at 23403 E. Mission here if their own facilities are damaged or destroyed, as well as access there to the same software and data they had at their own centers. It also has agreements with two companies that can provide multiple tractor-trailer rigs equipped with computer workstations and telecommunications equipment that can be driven wherever they're needed in such cases. Now, however, customers are beginning to ask for a bigger recovery center, where they could send a few hundred employees to work temporarily following a disaster, says Steven Tabacek, IT-Lifeline's president and CEO.

With that demand in mind, Tabacek says he began talking with David Barbieri, Red Lion's chief information officer, whom he had met earlier at business networking events, to figure out a way the two companies could meet that need together. Red Lion's Inn at the Park hotel here has 8,000 square feet of meeting space it could set up as a call center, as well as tables and chairs that call-center workers could use and a high-speed data connection to the outside world. It also could provide hotel rooms and other hospitality services to the displaced workers.

IT-Lifeline has networking gear, telephone systems, and access to hundreds of personal computers that could be shipped to the hotel within a day. Together, says Tabacek, the two companies could set up a temporary operational center for up to 300 workers.

"We're really good at space," says Barbieri. "It doesn't make economic sense for us to invest a lot in disaster recovery in-house, but that's what IT-Lifeline does. We can leverage our core expertise with theirs."

Barbieri says it makes a lot of sense to link a disaster-recovery company with one that can provide space and accommodations to displaced workers, adding, "There are not a lot of (disaster recovery) scenarios out there that fit this well."

For now, the two companies will focus on offering the service at Inn at the Park, located just north of Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. Later, Tabacek and Barbieri say, other locations in Red Lion's 45-hotel chain could become accessible for such a scenario, depending on how much meeting space they have and their access to high-speed Internet connections.

So far, the two companies have agreed on a plan and costs under which the service can be offered, and their logistics managers and network engineers are working out the details to make such a plan work. Next, IT-Lifeline will rent space in one of Inn at the Park's meeting rooms temporarily so it can set up and test such a scenario. It already has a preliminary proposal out to a couple of its regular data-recovery customers to offer the service to them, and another current customer is asking about such an option.

Once testing is done, probably within the next few weeks, IT-Lifeline will seek formal contracts with potential customers, under which it would receive a retainer fee for the "insurance policy" of having the plan ready to go in case of an emergency. Then, it and Red Lion would receive payments for the various components needed to launch the temporary facility if a disaster strikes.

Tabacek says each such plan will be tailored to a specific customer, including the number of workstations needed; what phones, computers, and software, would be needed; how much space would be required; how many hotel rooms would be needed for workers flown in from the city where the original call center was located.

The customers' data already will be backed up on IT-Lifeline's servers in Liberty Lake, so once the temporary space is set up, the computers and Internet-protocol-based phone systems can be routed to IT-Lifeline's facility to replicate what the client had before the disaster, he says.

Brandon Tanner, IT-Lifeline's vice president for sales and marketing, says fees for the service will vary widely depending on need, but most full-scale disaster recovery scenarios would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars to execute. He says, though, the kind of business that would want such a service would stand to lose far more money than that if it couldn't conduct business during that time.

Tabacek says IT-Lifeline always has offered off-site data storage, so if a customer's operations go down, the data can be restored later, once the problem is fixed or new equipment is installed. He says, though, that customers increasingly are less tolerant of any downtime, which means the data must be available instantly, perhaps from a different location using different computers.

"Clients used to be able to tolerate eight to 12 hours of downtime," he says. "Now, they don't tolerate any downtime."

Similarly, more customers are worried not only about data recovery, but what Tabacek calls getting "butts in seats." In other words, getting a customer's workers back to work, perhaps in a different location, if a facility is damaged or destroyed.

Those new industry demands, he says, have caused IT-Lifeline to "reinvent itself," by changing its product line and finding new technologies that allow it to help clients to replicate labor-intensive offices, such as call centers, quickly.

The company, which employs 16, primarily targets regulated industries, such as banks and health-care institutions, as well as publicly traded companies. Due to nondisclosure agreements, it can't disclose the names of its customers, Tabacek says. Its revenues grew 30 percent last year despite the recession, says Tabacek, though that growth was less than the 42 percent sales gain it enjoyed in 2008. The company is owned by Tabacek, some key IT-Lifeline employees, and a small group of local angel investors.

  • Paul Read

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