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Boulder's tech workers cope with historic flood

Widespread use of cloud data centers helps tech firms keep running, letting workers worry first about floods, not about business

By Patrick Thibodeau, Computerworld
September 13, 2013 07:36 AM ET

Computerworld - On Thursday afternoon, Chris Moody was the last person inside the downtown Boulder, Col. offices of Gnip, a social media data provider. Normally there are 70 people working in the office, but now Moody, Gnip's CEO, was set to turn off the lights and leave.

Boulder city officials had sent out an emergency request asking businesses to shut down operations in response to heavy rains that are producing widespread flooding.

Many roads were closed, limiting traffic flow. "They really want people off the road so emergency vehicles can move about," said Moody. "We're a big part of the downtown community and we wanted to certainly support the emergency effort."

Only about a third of Gnip's employees came into work Thursday, heeding Moody's earlier message to tend first to their personal safety and family needs. Some employees are dealing with flooding, others face commuting problems with road closures, he said.

Gnip's downtown Boulder office wasn't flooded, even though it is a block away from a creek, but workers were setting up floodgates as a precautionary measure. The city's decision to ask businesses to close was a sign "that the worse might still be in front us," said Moody.

Record Colorado rains and flash floods this week have swept away buildings and roads. But the floods can't wash away is Boulder's reputation as one of nation's best places for start-up companies.

Boulder was recently ranked first in nation for its "high-tech startup density," by the Kauffman Foundation. The ranking is based on a ratio of total startups and total population. What that ranking means, simply, is that there are a lot of startups in Boulder.

Despite the storm, Boulder businesses don't appear to be facing the same kind of widespread problems that the New York region suffered with Hurricane Sandy a year ago. Tech firms said that while some employees lost Internet access at their homes, there was no region-wide outage.

Despite storm-related problems and closed offices, it was business as usual for tech firms.

Gnip's operations, which it says involve delivering media analytics to over 90% of the Fortune 500, ran normally. Many Boulder firms rely on cloud providers, with operations far from the hazard areas, instead of running their own data centers.

On Thursday afternoon, Dave DuPont, CEO of TeamSnap, was in a hardware store picking up a sump pump hose as he detailed, in a cell phone interview, the impact of the flooding. TeamSnap, an online service for organizing sports teams, has nearly six million users.

DuPont needed a hose for his flooded home basement. TeamSnap's downtown office in Boulder is on the second floor and is dry, but he can't say the same for that office building's first floor and garage.

But the business was fine. "We don't have any capital equipment anywhere," said DuPont, The company relies on cloud providers for data services. TeamSnap also has employees located around the country who can help keep operations going, he said.

"We're uniquely position to be able to handle this thing quite well," said DuPont. "That's the way it is for most companies that do what we do," he said of other Internet-based firms.

Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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