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November 26, 2018 Experts Corner

How to have zero network downtime

George W. Kudelchuk III

Increasingly, there is an expectation and a need for businesses in a variety of industries to have uninterrupted connectivity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This, of course, is not to say that employees should be working around the clock, but the company's systems should.

It's no longer acceptable for a company's website to go down, or for emails to employees to bounce back because a server crashed at night or over the weekend. In addition to maintaining appearances and relationships, companies rely on software-as-a-service applications to such an extent that connectivity is often a prerequisite for productivity.

Even during a major weather event such as a hurricane or blizzard, business is continuing as usual in other parts of the country and world, and technology can help companies affected by the weather event minimize lost revenue. In fact, with planning and without a huge budget, it's entirely possible for the IT systems of a business of virtually any size to stay up and running no matter what.

How many internet connections do you have?

This might seem like a silly question. Most companies rely on a single internet service provider. There are major advantages to having two.

Where it's available, high-speed fiber is usually the first choice of businesses because it offers the fastest speeds. As a service delivered over physical infrastructure, fiber can be subject to outages. If someone takes out a telephone pole, your company could lose its internet connection for hours.

Most companies have a firewall on-site that processes and filters their cable or fiber internet connection. LTE carriers (the same ones that power the data connection on your smartphone like Verizon and AT&T) offer antennae, which feed an additional wireless internet connection into that same firewall.

Today's firewalls are smart enough to switch from one connection to the other without interruption if the first connection goes down.

In addition, the two feeds can be aggregated for super-charged connection speeds. This can be very appealing for companies that find their network gets congested during a particularly high-volume time of year.

Fortunately, the cost to have two separate internet connections is usually no where near double the cost of the primary connection a company already has. Wireless carriers want to encourage use of their service in this way, so they offer lower rates for backup service that increases to a full rate only when the service is used.

Different kinds of clouds

Do the words “nimbus” or “cumulus” ring a bell? Just like the different types of clouds in the sky that we all had to memorize in school, virtual clouds have different capabilities. Cloud backup services have become incredibly affordable, but if you're looking to avoid downtime, there are some key features that are worth budgeting a little extra.

The most affordable cloud solutions may upload quickly, but when it comes time to download the backup, it can be maddeningly slow. If your company is hit with a ransomware cyber attack, for instance, restoring from the cloud is often the best remedy. This can take days or minutes depending on what service you use.

The term for this delay is called “egress” and with low-budget, pay-as-you-go providers, it can be significant, particularly if you're trying to access your data during a time of high demand, such as after a natural disaster.

The best cloud providers guarantee download speeds that are as fast as your internet connection can handle. They also implement three points of redundancy — your server, another piece of hardware on-site and the cloud. In the ransomware example, this configuration enables restoring from backup instantaneously, and still protects you against flood, fire or anything that would wipe out all the equipment in your office.

Plan for the worst

Most businesses don't have a disaster-recovery plan. As a result, they can experience a long lapse in productivity or availability of their services if their office is affected by a major weather event or employees can't make it into work.

By running through possible scenarios in advance, IT staff and company leadership can ensure that team members have the ability to work remotely for as long as necessary even if the office is under water or without power.

George W. Kudelchuk III is an enterprise solutions executive at Kelser Corp., a technology consulting firm based in Glastonbury.

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September 18, 2019

George, your point about the role leadership play is spot on. At our school, Hartford Union High School (WI), we achieved 0% downtime with the help of People, Partners, Processes and Financial Support. There was also a fair amount of plain luck, to be honest.

I wrote up our experiences for anyone who may be interested:

Nathan Mielke.

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