Backup, Redundancy and Disaster Recovery

 

I have written about Fibre cuts in the past and the need to ensure you have backup circuits in place.  Recently I have noticed an increase in the frequency of Fibre cuts specifically in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). There is always a lot of construction going on, and I guess it’s expected that every once in a while a back hoe may cut a cable, but weekly outages seem to be the norm.

A few weeks ago, just down the street from our office a dump truck ran into a hydro pole and took out a chunk of Fibre. This caused major issues in the area as a number of carriers, including ourselves, use this as their primary path. When police and fire arrived to assess the situation they blocked access to the site until they completed their investigation. Understandable, however this delayed the repair significantly. The technicians were unable to access the site for hours. When they were given access, I think they all went home and didn’t complete the repair until the next day.

If your business relies on the Internet or private communications to your branches or Data Centre you must have a plan that includes diversity and redundancy. Organizations are moving services to the cloud thinking they are going to save money without calculating the additional cost to ensure you always have access to that cloud.

Let’s take SIP as an example of a service that many have already moved to. In the past your office had a number of Phone lines in the form of an Analog line (1FL) or a Digital line (PRI). If your internet connection went down, you still had the ability to conduct business over the phone. SIP is an alternative to physical phone lines. The phone lines still exist but they are now hosted elsewhere by your SIP Provider. You access those lines over the Internet, or a private connection using the SIP Protocol. Session Initiated Protocol is not new, but has reached a point of maturity that it is now a standard for Voice communications. Moving your Voice services to SIP is a great way to save on both monthly charges and equipment charges, as this can work over your existing internet connection. But what happens when that connection goes down. You don’t just loose the Internet, you lose inbound and outbound calling.

Two connections to your SIP provider are required to ensure connectivity. But that is not enough. Two Diverse path connections then? No, that won’t do it either. Two diverse path connections from separate carriers? We are getting closer! What I’m trying to point out is, that there is always a chance that you will be disconnected from your cloud service, no matter what the service is, but there are a number of steps you can take to mitigate outages. Redundant Hardware, Redundant Carriers and Diverse Paths are just three of many steps you must take to mitigate the risks. In the end, you may or may not actually save money, or the ROI will be measured in years instead of months. You can’t just look at the cost of a phone line vs the cost of a SIP session. Looking at those two items in isolation is a sales trick used by some SIP providers.

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Over the years I have seen many backup solutions fail due to unforeseen circumstances. This is why backup circuits and redundant hardware is not enough. Having a Disaster Recovery plan is crucial, even if it is rudimentary. A few years ago (maybe it was more than that) there was an electrical fire down at 151 Front St., the hub of the Internet in Toronto. This electrical fire caused a power outage. The backup generators could not be brought on line because they used Diesel gasoline. The result, no Internet for most of Toronto until the fire was under control. What if there is a fire in your building, or at your Data Centre? Have a plan in place. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan, but make sure you can at least get your phones rerouted. How long can your business survive with no access to the Internet or the cloud services that you rely on? Many businesses don’t even realize how many cloud services they actually use.

Knowing what the impact of downtime will cost your business will help you determine what level of redundancy you really need.

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