Local Groups Scramble After IAS Eviction

AATA, community foundation affected by Internet firm's troubles

Websites for several local institutions – including the AATA and Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation – were disabled Monday in the wake of business problems suffered by IAS, a local Internet company that’s been evicted from its office in the Lowertown area.

UAS Sign

The IAS sign is among the detritus set outside following the firm's eviction this week.

The NEW Center, a group that provides support services to local nonprofits, received calls from several people on Tuesday who were searching for alternatives to get their websites up again, said Linh Song, a NEW Center technology manager. Song is director of NEW’s npServ program, which helps nonprofits manage their information technology services.

The timing of this outage – which in some cases affected email service as well – was especially difficult for nonprofits, given that it has occurred during the height of the giving season, when groups typically see their largest year-end donations and await word on grant applications. You want to be as responsive as possible – you don’t want to worry about whether your email works, Song said.

IAS has a strong presence in the local nonprofit community. In addition to AATA and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, it provided web hosting services for the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ann Arbor Arts Alliance, among others.

NEW Center was directing institutions to Online Technologies Corp., another Ann Arbor firm that provides Internet services. On Tuesday afternoon, The Chronicle left messages with OTC executives Yan Ness and Mike Klein – two longtime local tech entrepreneurs – but has not yet heard back from them. UPDATE: Just after 4 p.m. we received a call from Klein, who said that OTC is offering a free month of website and email service to anyone affected by the IAS situation. They also are offering free co-location of servers, if necessary. OTC, with offices at Avis Farms, has received dozens of calls from people seeking help, Klein said: “They can’t afford downtime.” To contact OTC, call 734-213-2020 and press 2 for sales.

It’s unclear what has happened to IAS, owned by Arthur Talbot and Kelley Bezrutch. Outside the firm’s former office at 1327 Jones Drive on Tuesday, landlord Doug Smith told The Chronicle he evicted IAS for “chronic non-payment of rent,” but declined to give further details. The streetside curb outside the building was piled with office furniture, computer equipment, signs, and books.

Id like to teach the world to ping

This Coke bear was among the IAS artifacts scooped up by people who happened by. The Chronicle could not verify that the bear had been reprogrammed with the tune, "I'd like to teach the world to ping."

The Chronicle was unable to reach Talbot or Bezrutch. The firm’s phone rang unanswered. The IAS website was also down.

When the giant eye on your screen turns red

When called by The Chronicle to find out how the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation was dealing with the situation, AAACF staff pointed us to their network consultant, LTI Information Technology, which is not affiliated with IAS, to give us some insight into what happens when the company hosting your web services gets its plug pulled. What does your tech support service do?

Kevin Phillips of LTI spoke with us by phone and explained that LTI has provided network consulting for AAACF long before now.

In fact, LTI knew about the problems with AAACF’s web services before AAACF did. How? LTI runs an appliance on AAACF’s network that monitors status on all manner of conditions at any given time. How does that appliance give an alert when something goes wrong?

What happened at 1:30 p.m. yesterday was this: A giant eye on a computer screen at LTI turned red and displayed a message that no MX records were being served. That, said Phillips, could mean several different things. And as it turned out, what it meant was that IAS’s servers – with both the DNS (domain name server) and the content for the web service – were no longer providing that service.

Phillips said that they’d advised AAACF to begin migrating some of their network operations off IAS servers a few months ago, something AAACF had actually done. “It’s great when clients follow your advice, and it pays off almost instantly,” Phillips said. One of those operations was electronic mail. For two months now, AAACF has hosted its email content on its own Exchange servers. By 4 p.m. today, LTI expects to have completed the switch to a new DNS provider (the part that converts all the numbers used in Internet addresses to the names we typically see, like www.thisheresadomainname.com). It could take as long as a couple of days, Phillips said, for the new information to propagate across the whole Internet.

According to Phillips, the content of the AAACF website will have to be retrieved from backup files, which were not stored on IAS servers. The first step, though, is to get the DNS back up and running.

Linh Song said staff at the NEW Center were trying to figure out if they could provide temporary email service for some of the affected nonprofits. She said this situation is a good example of how much we rely on technology and how important it is to have contingency plans.

[Note: Dave Askins provided some of the reporting for this story.]

Section: Business

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  1. December 16, 2008 at 5:12 pm | permalink

    HDL in Ypsilanti is offering IAS customers two months of free web hosting for all current and former IAS customers.

    Basic Webhosting package is $49.95 per year and Platinum package for $99.95 per year with unlimited databases and no setup fees. Call HDL at 734-482-9682 or email steve@HDL.com.

    HDL also offers free webhosting for all non-profit groups that have no paid staff. HDL has offered free hosting for community groups and non-profits since 1995.

  2. December 16, 2008 at 7:47 pm | permalink

    The IAS web site is back up


    as is parts of the AATA site


    though the mobile bus tracking is (still) down.

  3. December 16, 2008 at 8:58 pm | permalink

    I hope there wasn’t any important business information on IAS’s computers tossed to the curb.

  4. By Matt
    December 17, 2008 at 12:52 am | permalink

    Did someone grab the sign?

    Hoping that the nonprofits will get up and running as quick as possible. Don’t forget your backups!

  5. December 17, 2008 at 4:14 am | permalink

    Most primary website, data & e-mail services have been restored as of 4:30PM Tuesday. AATA realtime data link is broken until we are able to migrate them to their fiber connection (& get the data). Hopefully today. Our phones are offline as we transition to VoIP services which should be available shortly. At this time email (support@ias.net) is best or use our website contact form.

  6. December 17, 2008 at 4:35 am | permalink

    Also our counsel & experts have advised us that any of the office contents we discarded at the curbside shouldn’t be used unless they can be fully remediated (cleaned by a professional). There are substantial & harmful levels of stachybotrys, which presents significant health concerns to humans, especially infants or those with compromised immune systems, present on all of the surfaces. Some in extremely high quantities.

  7. December 17, 2008 at 9:14 am | permalink
  8. December 17, 2008 at 9:28 am | permalink

    so the NEW center has a black mold (stachybotrys) problem? that is Not Good.

    black mold forced CITI to abandon the argus building annex some time back. the space was vacant for over a year during its rehabilitation which, i was told, cost the landlord upwards of million dollars.

  9. By Dave Askins
    December 17, 2008 at 9:40 am | permalink

    Peter Honeyman asked: “so the NEW center has a black mold (stachybotrys) problem?”

    To head off any confusion, IAS was not housed at the NEW Center, and was not evicted from there. That location was on Jones Drive, in the Lowertown area.

    Other than comment [6] The Chronicle has no information on possible black mold at the Jones Drive location.

  10. December 17, 2008 at 11:26 am | permalink

    oops. actually, i have no idea what the NEW center is (or why it uses that weird typography).

    anyway … who else is in the jones drive location? is zattoo in there?

  11. December 17, 2008 at 11:58 am | permalink

    The NEW Center does not have a black mold problem.

    Comment #4 points to nonprofits needing IT assistance. Geeks, please consider donating your time and energies through http://www.a2cto.org and NEW’s npServ program.:)

  12. December 17, 2008 at 11:58 am | permalink

    update by the Ann Arbor Business Review’s Nathan Bomey:

    AABR article

    the quote

    IAS.net lost its office space in Swisher Commercial’s Northern Brewery building on Jones Drive due to “chronic late-payment of rent,” said Doug Smith, a Swisher Commercial agent.

    Smith said his attorney advised him not to comment further.

  13. By Harlowe Whitcomb
    December 17, 2008 at 12:05 pm | permalink

    I’ve heard nothing of black mold in the Jones Drive location. Zattoo is in there and they seem fine.

    It does appear that IAS is trying to give some of its clients the impression that they had to leave the building due to an emergency black mold situation. But the landlord said “chronic nonpayment of rent”, and no one else appears to be leaving. Is anyone able to determine which of these reasons, if either, is a fabrication?

    If there is a black mold infestation, have the fans on IAS’s servers sucked spores in and transferred them to the new location? Should the Health Department get involved? Should the building be inspected? Should IAS’s new location for the servers be inspected?

  14. December 17, 2008 at 12:08 pm | permalink

    hmm, CITI had black mold when dug song worked there … now he’s at zattoo on jones drive …

    coincidence? I THINK NOT!

  15. December 17, 2008 at 12:12 pm | permalink

    For more from our contributor Harlow Whitcomb, president of the Slow Talkers of America, see this video:


    fabrication indeed

  16. By Harlowe Whitcomb
    December 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm | permalink

    EV- and that is the kind of knowledge base that makes the Chronicle as good as it is! :D

  17. By Andrea Kelly
    December 17, 2008 at 1:46 pm | permalink

    Reposted from the onlinetech blog at http://resource.onlinetech.net/

    After finding out a number of nonprofit organizations were left without their email, web or other Internet services, Online Technologies decided to offer immediate “triage” to get these companies back online as soon as possible. “This is a critical time of year for non-profits and ever hour their website is down is an hour of missed opportunity” said Mike Klein, President of Online Technologies.

    Online Technologies Corporation is offering offer immediate assistance, including 1 month free email, website and shared server colocation, for disrupted IAS customers. Those affected should call visit our website at http://www.onlinetech.net or call Online Technologies at 734-213-2020 to get immediate assistance.

    These services will be delivered from Online Technologies’ newest data center in Avis Farm’s. The 10,500 square foot data center is one of three data centers in Michigan that houses Online Technologies’ growing colocation, dedicated server and managed service product lines for small and mid-sized businesses across Michigan and the Great Lakes region .

    Online Technologies (www.onlinetech.com)

  18. December 17, 2008 at 10:51 pm | permalink

    MLive has a story update

    Story Update

    with this quote

    AATA’s Web-based bus tracking service is not yet back online, said interim executive director Dawn Gabay. She said she hoped the service would be restored Friday.

    Meanwhile, the remainder of the AATA Web site was functioning.

  19. December 18, 2008 at 2:04 am | permalink

    Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc, Dr. Honey?

    What can I say, I guess I’m just a fun-gi to work with.

  20. By Wm. Jefferson
    December 18, 2008 at 9:39 am | permalink

    OTC never misses a chance to jump on some new business – they should watch out IAS will sue them for “stealing ” their customers… what little I know about IAS seems to surround lawsuits – they are perpetually threating leagal action against somebody – maybe they have free representation or lawers working on contingency? I don’t know if this is a comment on the state of legal affairs in our country or on the methods used by a poorly-run business to stay afloat.

    I would guess that the black mold card is an excuse and effort to keep people away from their stuff – if it really went to litigation following proper notice of complaint the rent monies would have to have been set aside in a designated bank account – and the landlord would have no cause to evict – there is a lengthy legal procedure before one is kicked to the curb.

  21. By Mike Lytoris
    December 18, 2008 at 10:45 am | permalink

    The servers are/were in the basement. The mold infestation apparently is on the north side of the building. I understand that the section infested was an addition to the main building; the foundation shifted creating cracks which moisture entered, etc. etc. But I’m not an expert – it’s just what I heard.

  22. By Harlowe Whitcomb
    December 18, 2008 at 12:15 pm | permalink

    Well, at least my pseudonym isn’t VULGAR. Some people…

  23. By Chris Michaels
    December 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm | permalink

    You sir, have a dirty mind.

  24. By Tim Ulrich
    December 18, 2008 at 5:44 pm | permalink

    My first hosting provider had a bunch of racks in his basement. Probably had mold, no doubt had mice. No one every worried about an outage. If it happened, it happened. Can’t take the risk anymore. Lots of these places are being run like someone’s basement. We just moved into Liberty Center in Royal Oak because the place we were in had water leaks. This place is new and tight. Lots of new toys and two of the biggest generators you’ve ever seen.

  25. December 19, 2008 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    via the Great Lakes IT Report:


    According to the release, “The admittedly sudden move by IAS was precipitated by years of neglect in the building in which IAS leased space, which led to the growth of black mold. While making arrangements for an orderly migration to a new facility, it was called to our attention that the problem was much more severe than originally thought, and that the health of our staff could be at risk. We therefore made the determination to vacate immediately and relocate to our new facility, a feat that was accomplished in, literally, 24 hours. The process required us to abandon much of our office furniture and fixtures that, having been exposed to the mold, could not be remediated to the degree to make them useable. In the process of the sudden move, we did experience disruption to the services we provide to our valued clients. For that we sincerely apologize. “

  26. By IAS
    December 20, 2008 at 12:15 pm | permalink

    We were in a years long legal battle to get our space properly maintained (not the first mind you), and its not just little stuff, we’re talking ongoing indoor rain throughout, often no heat or no a/c for extended periods of time & destroyed (which we replaced) 2 yr old server room A/C system due to complete lack of maintenance (no cleaning or anything).

    The other BIG reason we withheld rent because we were significantly overcharged for basement space the landlord said he’d lease to us & make ready but then never did anything, but CONTINUED to overcharge us for it for 3 years @ around $50k total. When we approached him about this he admitted “yeah, we’re probably being overcharged for the basement” (since he wasn’t making the other 50% space available) and would “provide us a credit” but when we asked for it we were denied anything and he CONTINUED to charge us.

    Starting Nov 07 & on it was especially bad inside with no quarterly leak repairs being done at all. The real estate market was tough so it was about how much he could get away with and nothing else. If we were in any other office situation and we would have just left outright years ago but we had to fight as we were tied to and had significant investment in the facility for our datacenter (over $100k of generator, electrical, security, etc) that we put in new in 05.

    This past year it became evident the landlord was going to continue to operate our area with increasingly smaller amounts of resources & maintenance. When we were trying to find a way to consolidate space or relocate we moved some office supplies and discovered significant black stains behind the boxes on the wall. We immediately contacted a local testing firm to see what it was & the data & resulting affidavit are posted & available at http://ias.net/brewery/ .

    We were “late” with rent because we were WITHHOLDING it as we could think of no other way to get our space maintained. We had “simple” needs like not being significantly overcharged for our lease & having our regular office space maintained. The legal process for landlord-tenant claims heavily favors the incumbent landlord. The burden of proof, massive expense of litigation AND escrow (having to pay rent for a space not at all worthy of occupancy) all the while having to ALSO continue to put up with unmaintained space all falls on the tenant.

    Coincidence or not, some people got very sick in this area and we could never figure out what was going on or made any connection to anything.

    In Oct 07 we sent one of our frequent “here’s where all the leaks are this month” e-mails and one of our staff noticed that not only was the paint continuing to fall off in this one increasingly worsening area but there appeared to be some stains where the paint was cracking. In a “shock tactic” to get the landlord to pay attention to our pleas to get this chronic leak fixed we called it “mold” but really had no idea (we didn’t discover the big black area behind the boxes until late Nov 08). Guess what the response was? NOTHING! He didn’t care that we said mold but conveniently recalled that in the court we previously “discovered mold” and did nothing. For over a year HE KNEW and did NOTHING!

    Its the OWNERS responsibility to maintain their building & make it a safe/habitable environment for tenants.

    I’d like to go on record that we believe the counsel for the landlord is an excellent and very clever lawyer.

    Oh and don’t you believe that OTC are saints for offering to assist now as if they were they would have been aggressively supporting the non-profit community with in-kind services & development like we have for OVER 10 YEARS. They just want the business.

    With regards to previous litigation battles don’t think we’ve forgotten when our former investor breached his fiduciary duties & BoAA called our loan a few days before 9/11 and THEN offered to arrange that OTC (a client of BoAA) could be provided an expanded credit line to purchase our hosting services division at “pennies on the dollar”. Saints indeed.

  27. By IAS
    December 20, 2008 at 12:41 pm | permalink

    There was an earlier question about the datacenter contents & mold. Our datacenter was in the basement of the Brewery building which is a separate structure than our 5000 sq/ft office area (part of one of the foundry expansions). It appears that the servers/racks were uncontaminated although in the affidavit (see web link) the expert mentions there was evidence of something going on in the basement (there’s water continually seeping through the walls in the alcoves).

  28. December 22, 2008 at 1:08 pm | permalink

    i’m wondering if IAS withheld rent by putting it in escrow … or in a mattress … or what.

  29. January 18, 2009 at 6:20 pm | permalink

    “AATA IT staff have been working to migrate AATA internet services to a shared infrastructure with the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County governments. Due to the complicated nature of this process, several services remain offline and others could be temporarily disrupted. Click here for the latest information on service outages. We apologize for the inconvenience created by the outages and thank you for your continuing patience. ”

    We’re at 6 weeks now and counting.

  30. January 20, 2009 at 6:12 pm | permalink

    David Nacht will be addressing city council tonight. I’ve asked several city council members to ask him to address this issue.

  31. March 8, 2009 at 2:47 pm | permalink

    Online Tech Continues to Support Nonprofits

    Contrary to IAS claims, Online Tech has been involved in the community for years giving back to nonprofits in a number of ways. We recently reconfirmed our commitment to provide Nonprofit Enterprise at Work with thousands of dollars a month in free service.

    Check out how NEW is helping Nonprofits deploy thier IT infrastructure with help from Online Tech at link to Online Tech