Out at the a' />

In a building in the Christchurch suburb of Middleton, staff from six of the city's firms are trying to keep their businesses going.

Out at the airport, space is being transformed into another shared office, with desks, chairs, computers, printers, faxes and other equipment trucked down from the North Island over the weekend.

This is Plan-b in operation, a firm whose business is keeping others in business when disaster strikes.

"We had to get our Middleton building signed off as safe but, by Thursday evening, we had customers in there," says managing director Ian Forrester.

Plan-b inspected the airport space when it was looking for Christchurch premises a year ago, so it made the necessary phone calls when it became clear its 70 existing seats would not be enough.

Kordia is putting in Wi-max to cope with likely data loads and Forrester says the firm should have more than 250 seats available in the city by the end of the week.

"We can see demand for about 700 seats just from our existing customers, so we are looking at other options, such as running multiple shifts if that is suitable."

Plan-b is also looking at setting up childcare, in case the city's schools remain closed for a long time.

If firms need to relocate staff out of the city, Plan-b has facilities in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. Its services also include offsite and online data back-up, so firms can keep going even if their buildings are off-limits or absolutely trashed.

Forrester says that while the September earthquake didn't bring in many more customers, there was a big jump in existing customers testing their business continuity plans - something that is helping the transition this time go more smoothly.

That means not just how to get servers back up but who takes charge in a crisis, who makes decisions about moving, who talks to customers or the media.

"It all needs to be rehearsed. It's not just backing up data. You've got to practise these things or when it happens people don't know, they run round like headless chooks."

He says last week's quake is clearly more devastating than September's.

"It will have a longer-term impact, so where previously people were with us for one or two weeks, now it could take a year or longer to rebuild."

He says the phones have been ringing off the hook since last Tuesday from firms around the country suddenly wanting a back-up plan.

"New Zealand has had a big wake-up call about business continuity. We still have businesses here who say their plan is to get a fireproof safe and keep the back-up tapes there. That's not going to work.

"Working from home doesn't work. Schools are closed, homes are damaged, phone circuits are overloaded. internet connections go down.

"In a crisis, people need to be together, make decisions together. Small businesses can work from someone's home but, for larger organisations, it doesn't work."

Another firm whose service is helping Christchurch firms recover is Datalock, which offers online back-ups.

Andrew Schick says its Christchurch customer base increased by a third since September, and many will now be thanking their foresight.

"If they can find any computer that works and an internet connection, they can get their data," Schick says.

Datalock is flat out setting up new virtual private servers so firms can move their vital applications and data online.

Many firms are looking for short-term back-up solutions, while they wait for tape back-up services to resume, and the civil defence staff and volunteers flooding into the city also need an efficient way to back up their hard drives.

Schick says many of the city's schools are Datalock customers, and roll back-ups, in many cases done hourly, helped rescuers account for whoever was in buildings.

"Our databases were the first port of call. If the data back-up is only done on-site, or it's only done at the end of the day, you can't do that. That's where continuous data protection is valuable."

He says many firms are now tracking down back-up tapes and trying to reconstitute their business.

Cloud economics means virtual back-ups are no longer just for large firms.

Schick says Datalock is talking with resellers about creating a service that will allow individuals to back up their data for $5 a month, with a donation going to the Red Cross for earthquake relief.

"The aim is to raise $1 million in three months. If we get 50,000 people using it, we can do that."

NZICT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are collecting equipment for Christchurch firms, especially laptops, and Wellington firm Catalyst IT has created a website, http://business.eq.org.nz/, to co-ordinate support for IT businesses in the city.