Case Study: Disaster Recovery for Houston County Schools


"Houston County was back online quicker and at a cost that was favorable due to the partnership with Clear Winds in our disaster recovery."

A few years ago, Clear Winds Technologies took care of the disaster recovery process for Houston County Schools when the unthinkable happened to their network. Hear from Bob Blalock, Technology Director of Houston County Schools, on how Clear Winds exceeded expectations during the disaster recovery process.

The Problem

“We had a malware attack in August of 2019. As a result of the attack, most of our systems were locked out with the virus. We did have a few that were not affected, but it was less than 5% of about 4,000 systems. The attack targeted our servers but also attacked our end-user systems as well. Our school system was shut down immediately and remained down for two weeks while we got our plan in place and working.”

Initial Response

“Our solution was to get Clear Winds Technologies and Alabama Super Computer involved immediately, since Clear Winds provides our networking support and ASC provides our internet connectivity. ASC took our internet down, began evaluating systems they could use to protect us immediately, and got our internet secured and back online the same day. Clear Winds sent a team of two to our location the same day we called in the situation. They brought in a clean server that could be used to recover our system temporarily and began surveying our backups to find out if we had good data that could be restored. Clear Winds was onsite within 8 hours of the first call, ready to work 24 hours on our recovery. The Houston County location is over 200 miles from Clear Winds’ office, so this was a very rapid response with equipment in hand to do the work.

Our plan involved completely formatting all systems in our district, reloading a fresh operating system, and scanning any and all files that would be put back on the network. Clear Winds organized a team to come onsite and work with Houston County on the format and reload job that would take many weeks. The server recovery took about three days for Houston County to get a clean VMware server and a clean accounting system server. The event took place on a Monday morning, and the district payroll was due to be directly deposited on Saturday. 

The two-man team from Clear Winds had a VMware system and accounting system running by Friday. Our payroll department was able to begin entering the data for direct deposit on Friday, and on Saturday at about 10 a.m. Houston County had the district employees paid. The payroll going out on time was a priceless event that really boosted the morale of the entire Houston County workforce. The team from Clear Winds went above and beyond in their effort that first week to get our system out of trouble and on the way to recovery.”

Completing Disaster Recovery

“The following Monday, Clear Winds had a group of technicians arrive in Dothan, Alabama to begin the rebuild process. Clear Winds provided help to set up the most preferred way to attack the format and rebuild process and provided personnel to start the work process. The district started a plan to go one facility and location at a time and created a plan from start to finish as to which locations we worked in order. The rebuild plan went smoothly with almost no issues, and the Clear Winds team stayed on-location and involved throughout the recovery. The Clear Winds team took instructions directly from me and worked right alongside the district personnel involved in the operation. The entire recovery took about eight weeks, and we had originally planned for 12 weeks. So the end result was that Houston County was able to get our systems back online about 4 weeks quicker than was expected at the beginning.

Clear Winds was truly a partner and not an outside vendor looking for a big paycheck in the recovery process. The labor rate that Clear Winds charged was discounted due to the emergency, and the cooperation was second to none. Houston County would not have been able to complete the project and get back online as quickly as we did without the help of the entire Clear Winds organization. On the first day of the attack, Stan Sargent, Craig Davenport, and Michael Gray got on a conference with me and assured me of their help and response to the needs of the district. Clear Winds was the partner that Houston County needed at a time that could have been a true disaster for the Houston County Board of Education.”

The Result

“The result of Clear Winds’ involvement in the malware attack was a relief to the Houston County personnel most of all. The end result with Clear Winds was that the project was completed on a quicker timeline than expected and at a lower cost than would have been charged by other vendors. The cost alone that was quoted by other vendors was outrageous compared to Clear Winds. Houston County was not taken advantage of by Clear Winds… many other vendors were quickly quoting prices for labor that were 3–4 times the prices from Clear Winds. Houston County was back online quicker and at a cost that was favorable due to the partnership with Clear Winds in our disaster recovery. Also, Clear Winds was instrumental in helping Houston County rebuild the network and systems in a more secure configuration to avoid another attack in the future.

The recommendations from Bob Blalock were to continue to work with Clear Winds in the future to build and maintain a network configuration and equipment that makes the district less vulnerable to attacks and be prepared for any mishaps that need immediate attention. Clear Winds has continued since the attack to be a partner and not just a vendor for Houston County Schools.

My last comment about Clear Winds is: Clear Winds was the #1 reason Houston County did not suffer a catastrophe in the malware attack! I would recommend Clear Winds to anyone in need of their services, and I don’t think there is another company of their size in the industry that is better!! The bottom line about Clear Winds is that their people care about the customer and the customer’s needs, not just the profit they can make.”

– Bob Blalock, Technology Director of Houston County Schools

If you are considering a cybersecurity solutions provider, check out Clear Winds Cybersecurity for k12 services! If you are in need of disaster recovery services or want to do everything possible to keep cyberattacks from affecting your organization, contact us today! We are here for you!

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