Internet outages are almost always local events now. The network is so large and so robust that the entire Internet just doesn’t go down. It only seems that way. Perhaps it’s your favorite site or application that is temporarily offline. Perhaps you just can’t get to anything at all.
I’ve felt this pain to varying degrees over the years. As a night owl, I know that the wee hours are the time that network administrators target to do their maintenance. That means my ISP can go offline for an hour or two without warning. It also means that any given online service my be down for maintenance with little or no notice.
Then there are the unplanned and uncontrolled outages. Construction work is famous for taking down telecom services. It’s so prevalent it has a name. They call it “backhoe fade.” It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Someone with a backhoe digs in the wrong place and chops through a wire. A year or two ago, they chopped through a fiber optic cable. There were over 100 strands in that cable and my service was on one of the last to be fused back together. No Internet for two days.
Well, not exactly. The cable modem was dead for two days. I was getting things done at any restaurant where they had free WiFi that wasn’t affected. Inconvenient? Yes, but it got me through.
I’m tied to the Internet for my livelihood, but a local outage isn’t the kiss of death. It’s just a major inconvenience. The reason for this is that all of my hosting, dozens of domains worth, is done elsewhere. In fact, I insist on having multiple hosting services located in different data centers in different cities. That way a local disaster won’t take everything down at once. This happened about 8 years back. Remember the 4 hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004? One of them flooded the building my web host was in. Even though they were on a higher floor, the communications lines were affected so no data was going in or out.
This hints at the first thing you can do to protect your business from Internet outages. Don’t put all of your eggs or servers in one basket. You have more protection when the services you use are divvied out geographically. Disasters rarely affect more than a limited area. This is true for cloud services too. Your cloud provider needs to have diverse backup solutions or you need more than one cloud. Nowadays, that also means you need more than one way to get to the cloud.
Backhoe fade is a fact of Internet access, although there are more and less risky solutions. All in all, you are better off with dedicated Internet access that has an SLA or Service Level Agreement. The really cheap Internet services, DSL and Cable, are shared and not dedicated to you alone. They are also treated as “information services” not telecom services, meaning that the providers don’t jump nearly as high or as fast when something goes wrong. T1 lines, Ethernet over Copper, Ethernet over Fiber and SONET perform better, have faster mean times to repair and cost more... as you would expect.
It’s good to have diversity in your connectivity. Two T1 lines are better than one. Ethernet over Copper using multiple pairs is more reliable than anything coming in on a single pair. Even better is copper backup for fiber services, even thought it may be slower. There is no one cable that has both the copper wires and fiber strands in it. A cable broadband service can be an inexpensive backup service to your dedicated lines since it doesn’t use telco wiring. Wireless broadband is an excellent backup that also doesn’t have to be that costly. Your smartphone gives you a level of redundancy when your desktop PC goes down. There are fixed wireless services designed for business backup running on 3G and 4G cellular networks. You can set these up for automatic failover so that service won’t be interrupted if you lose a landline.
How much you need to concern yourself with redundancy and disaster recovery depends on what happens when you lose your connection to the Internet. Is it a minor inconvenience or does everything come to a screeching halt? If that’s the case, make sure you have at least two ways of connecting and getting your work done. They don’t have to be the same bandwidth or guaranteed availability. Just make sure that there is no single point of failure that will knock them both out at the same time. There are lots of different services available. Check prices and features so you can get the best mix of business bandwidth services available for your particular location.