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Plan B Proposes Its Own Alternatives

By Andrea Caumont
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2004; Page F05

Donnie Downs, president and chief executive of Plan B Technologies Inc., said the company itself is a "plan B."

Downs was formerly the director of the Southeast region for FutureLink Corp. of Lake Forest, Calif., an application service provider with more than $100 million in revenue. He said he resigned from FutureLink in March 2001 because he thought bad business decisions were being made under the pressures of operating as a public company.

In Profile

Name: Plan B Technologies Inc.

Location: Bowie. The company plans to move in the next three to six months to a location yet to be determined, somewhere between Annapolis and Bowie.

Founded: April 2001. Donnie Downs resigned from FutureLink Corp., which subsequently filed for bankruptcy reorganization. He founded Plan B with Curtis Eshelman, who is director of business development, and Steve Taylor, who is chief technology officer.

Web site: www.planbtech.net

Who's in charge: Donnie Downs, president and chief executive.

Funding: One of the partners funded the company. Plan B intends to remain private.

Employees: 28

Partnership: Partners including Microsoft Corp., Citrix Systems Inc., EMC Corp., Juniper Networks Inc., Network Appliance Inc. and RSA Security Inc.

Big-name clients: Mercantile Bank & Trust, M&T Bank, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Southern Maryland Hospital Center, Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., USA Today, Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, the U.S. Air Force and Army, the National Security Agency and the Office of Personnel Management.

Origin of company name: Downs said Plan B Technologies was a backup plan not only for employees at FutureLink, but also for the companies in business with FutureLink. The company's tagline is "Because every successful business has one."

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"I saw the handwriting on the wall," Downs said. The company's U.S. operations filed for bankruptcy the following August and were eventually liquidated.

One month after resigning from FutureLink, Downs co-founded Plan B Technologies with Curtis Eshelman and Steve Taylor, who were also former FutureLink employees. Once the bankruptcy was filed, the three recruited among their former colleagues, increasing the staff for their new company to 30 people overnight.

Plan B, which started out solely as a systems integrator, opened its doors two weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "A lot of the business in the pipe pretty much dissipated," Downs said. "We had to diversify." The company, based in Bowie, broadened its focus to include data storage and network security.

Now, Plan B provides commercial and government clients with their own backup plans, specializing in disaster recovery and business continuity. Plan B consults with organizations to determine the best security, data storage or systems products based on the customer's needs and requirements. The engineers at Plan B design and implement the systems.

The company performs work in three areas: systems integration, in which Plan B determines a client's best options for server-based computing, telecommuting and e-mail systems; data storage, in which the company helps clients decide how to back up information, maintain compliance and handle disaster recovery; and network security, in which Plan B focuses on a client's policy management and development, password management, logins, encryption and firewalls.

Downs said a big challenge is helping companies understand their options. "What is out there is so complex. You have people pushing products rather than designing solutions. A lot of times we go in and clean up a lot of messes." Downs thinks his company has an edge over competitors because it maintains a higher level of technical certification which, he said, provides more intimate relationships with such vendors as Microsoft Corp., Citrix Systems Inc. and EMC Corp.

About 80 percent of Plan B's business is in the commercial sector, mostly concentrated in banks, hospitals and the media. The remaining 20 percent of business comes from government organizations. Plan B is not on the GSA schedule, but the company is evaluating that option. Downs said about half of Plan B's contracts involve major overhauls, engaging the client in systems integration, data storage and network security.

Company revenue has grown rapidly over the past three years, from $3 million in 2002, to a projected $10 million this year, Downs said. While he projects revenue of $20 million to $30 million 10 years from now, the 28-person company won't be growing much more. "We'll keep it small, 50 employees and below," Downs said. "Above 50, it becomes less intimate . . . you have to interject more management."

Downs predicts a volatile future for the network services sector due to a combination of mergers and acquisitions, takeovers and the blending of technologies. But, he said, "People will always need functional networks."

E-mail Andrea Caumont at caumonta@washpost.com.


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