When it comes to networking, plan for the worst

If a hurricane, flood, earthquake or even local construction strikes your data center, will your network survive unscathed?

There are many reasons why networks fail during disasters. There is, of course, the physical networking equipment; if it isn’t properly secured, it can be subject to ruin. Preventing disaster during a flood, for example, requires having the foresight to keep equipment off of the ground. In addition, using carrier-grade telecommunications equipment instead of enterprise-grade equipment will provide better backup and protection, making the equipment better able to withstand a host of problems.

But far more prevalent is interruption of the telecommunications path, because network connectivity is susceptible to interruption through fiber cuts, which are caused by natural disasters or even outside activity like construction.

To protect against fiber cuts, it is important to have fully diverse fiber optic connectivity in the data center, says Paul Savill, senior vice president of product management at Level 3, a global communications service provider.

The problem is that different telecommunications carriers often use the same rights-of-ways to bring fiber into a given building or data center.

“So it’s not good enough to get half of your circuits from Verizon and half from AT&T,” he said. “You have to ask your service provider for physical network maps that show enough detail about where the fiber runs—what street, what side of the street, how it comes into the building. And make sure that those entrances into the building are on different sides of the building.”

It’s also critical to ensure that the service level agreement offers the full range of protection needed. That means, for example, that the SLA from the prime contractor should cover you end-to-end, even if a third party is involved. In addition, your service provider should be willing to custom design your data center to suit your targeted SLA and performance level.

It’s also a good idea to include wireless networking as part of the plan in case your fiber optic network is out of service—something more likely to happen with wired networks because network infrastructure is so complex.

Wireless networking increasingly is becoming an important part of business continuity planning. According to a 2012 business continuity study from AT&T, which focused on IT executives in Texas, two-thirds of executives now include their wireless network capabilities as part of the business continuity plan.

Subhed: Critical for government

While maintaining connectivity is critical for all businesses, it is especially important for government agencies, many of which provide vital services that must be running continuously.

“Federal agencies can’t afford to just ‘check the box’ for continuity of operations and disaster recovery,” said Edward Morche, senior vice president and general manager of Level 3’s Government Markets Group. “Any disruption in network connectivity can seriously compromise operations, confidence and the mission.”

The Social Security Administration is one agency that hasn’t left anything to chance. Through its Networx contract with Level 3, the agency now has multiple 10 Gigabit connections in its data centers. The solution meets SSA’s network performance, scale, capacity and usability requirements.

State and local government agencies have similar requirements. Buncombe County, N.C., for example, has deployed four BridgeWave AR80 point-to-point 80 GHz capacity wireless links, which provide backup for its main county fiber-based network. The solution helps Buncombe County’s police, fire and emergency medical dispatch continue working during crises.

As networks get more complex, the importance of network viability and redundancy, along with wireless networking backup, is more important than ever.