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Keeping the WAN alive when disaster strikes

Florida was just picking up the pieces from Hurricane Frances when Hurricane Ivan hit the panhandle, leaving a swath of destruction heading north. It is surely a nightmare for those who are putting the pieces of their lives back together.

But there are a few easy steps that businesses can take to make emerging from a disaster like this a lot less painful. SearchNetworking.com sat down with Dave Passmore, a research director with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, to learn more about how businesses can better prepare for worst-case scenarios when they're in the eye of the storm.

Florida was just picking up the pieces from Hurricane Frances when Hurricane Ivan hit the panhandle, leaving a swath of destruction heading north. It is surely a nightmare for those who are putting the pieces of their lives back together.

But there are a few easy steps that businesses can take to make emerging from a disaster like this a lot less painful....

SearchNetworking.com sat down with Dave Passmore, a research director with Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, to learn more about how businesses can better prepare for worst-case scenarios when they're in the eye of the storm.

What are some of the biggest network concerns when a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes?

Dave Passmore: If your WAN (wide area network) lines are above ground, they are subject to wind damage just like power lines are. And even if the WAN lines themselves are not severed, the ISP (Internet service provider) may lose power. It has banks of batteries that will last for a certain amount of time, but if its central office floods, you may lose connectivity. Sometimes power surges can take out network devices. These are all things to be concerned about.

What can network managers do to ensure that they are prepared for the threat of a WAN outage?

DP: Redundancy is the key. Make sure that you are using multiple service providers, or that you have separate facilities from the same provider. You have to make an effort to figure out the paths from your facilities to the nearest central office, and make sure that those paths are different.

More things to think about are hosted applications and data. All of your important data can be moved to a collocation facility, and those are usually hardened facilities with power turbines and no windows.

What qualities should businesses look for in a redundant connection?

DP: The more diversity, the better. For a small or medium business, rather than just rely on the phone circuit, it should get cable modems because typically that is a very different infrastructure. With satellite, all that you are dependent on is power and the dish. And with voice, cell services can be backups for wire line services. Businesses should take these such preventive measures for any kind of disruption, whether man made or natural.

During a disaster, is any particular kind of connection likely to be more resilient?

DP: With a satellite, you can control your own destiny. If the dish gets knocked down, you can generally put it back up. As long as you can come up with backup power and have access to a dish, you are back in business. It is the ultimate in self-sufficiency.

Is there anything that can be written into a service provider agreement that can help protect a business?

DP: Not really. Most service providers will refund you for the portion of the service that you didn't receive, which hardly compensates for the loss of business.

What are some of the steps involved in getting back on your feet after a disaster?

DP: First you need to find out if your employees and their families are all right, and then you need to get them back to work when you can. You should contact service providers to let them know where outages exist. Often, they don't know where outages are and, in the case of a disaster like a hurricane, they are often very overwhelmed. All you can do is be persistent.

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