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Volume 27, Issue 4

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Communications

Communications (41)

Telecommunications is your lifeline in day to day business operations. Today’s competitive corporate world demands that we be able to interact in a professional and immediate fashion. No matter how sophisticated and advanced your telecommunications system is, no one system is immune to disruption.

Unfortunately, even the most comprehensive system is vulnerable to unexpected disruptions or disasters; power outages, storms, sabotage, accidents and fire are threats to your company’s most vital link. As you may be aware, the costs and hardships a company endures when these unfortunate situations occur can be crippling. Although you do not have control over the disaster itself, you do have control over minimizing your damages. The most effective way to do so is to have a contingency plan.

A good contingency plan provides a strategy for the prevention of service loss and assures alternate means of communication when a disruption occurs. In developing your contingency plan, the four following points of information should serve as a starting point for your communications plan of prevention and resumption:

1. Identify your equipment/service needs
2. Protect and maintain your equipment
3. Locate alternate sites/services for emergency use
4. Keep abreast of new products/services geared towards disaster prevention and business recovery

As the scope of corporate technology broadens with each passing minute, “technological fitness” could well become the corporate buzzword for the twenty-first century. With the ongoing development of state-of-the-art communications networks, most companies have become increasingly dependent on information systems to achieve successful business operations.

While advanced office technologies are certainly an invaluable ally in today’s competitive markets, many businesses often assume that their office buildings can adequately protect these systems. However, when a disaster suddenly occurs, a building’s protection level is put through the ultimate test. As recent catastrophes have illustrated, office buildings often cease to function during a natural disaster or crisis, leaving information systems susceptible to extensive damage. When these systems break down, even the most “technologically-fit” company can instantly lose power and profits. These ramifications have brought the protection of information systems to the forefront of disaster prevention and management issues.

Friday, 26 October 2007 05:15

Remote Database Logging For Disaster Recovery

Written by

Hewitt Associates is an international firm of consultants and actuaries specializing in the design, financing, communication, and administration of employee benefits and compensation programs. One professional group administer defined contribution plans (such as employee savings and 401k), flexible benefits systems and pension administration systems. Hewitt Associates uses Voice Response Units for the employees of our clients to perform such activities as enrollment of flexible benefits, and interrogating and transferring account balances between available investment choices. These facilities are very popular because they make up-to-date information instantly available to employees.

Recently several of us reviewed Hewitt Associates’ requirements for Database recovery in the event of a sudden disaster. Our approach to disaster recovery addresses the question: “How will we recover in the event that, without warning, our data center and its contents become completely inaccessible?”

Formerly it was understood and practiced that nightly backups would provide a sufficient base to accomplish an adequate recovery. In the event of a disaster, databases would be restored to their status of the prior midnight and we would advise users to reenter and reprocess the prior day’s on-line and batch updates.

Our new review indicated that recently our processing world had radically changed. Previously, users were Hewitt Associates (our employees) processing client work through our well-defined network of 3270 terminals. The theoretical universe of users was constrained to the several thousand 3270-type terminals configured to our network located mostly in our offices. Nearly all these terminals were in the charge of someone employed by the firm. Databases were available on a scheduled basis from about 06:00 to 22:00, six days each week.

Friday, 26 October 2007 05:13

AT&T Communications

Written by

Introduces a Disaster Plan for Data and Voice,
Providing End to End Disaster Recovery Service

The Growing dependence of companies on their data processing applications increases their vulnerability to unforseen disasters. A company’s survival can be threatened as soon as 48 hours after the loss of its data processing operation.

Awareness of the importance of disaster recovery planning has been increasing among companies, but few have effective contingency plans in place. With their fingers crossed, many firms like to believe “it won’t happen to us.” Business managers must ask themselves what the consequences would be if their companies were no longer able to process information in their key data processing centers.

To insure against the catastrophic effects of a random disaster--and in response to regulatory mandates--information-dependent institutions such as banks and insurance companies are establishing viable, comprehensive and cost-effective disaster recovery contingency plans for their data centers and are subscribing to the services of companies within the disaster recovery industry.

Disaster recovery firms specialize in supplying “mirror image” backup capabilities at an alternative location within a specified time frame. Referred to as “hot sites,” these are strategically located, fully prepared computer facilities with communications capabilities and pre-installed equipment that could backup operations within the first 24 hours of a system failure or disaster. During an emergency, customers redirect their communications lines from their disabled primary host to the reserve computer hardware in the disaster recovery company’s hot site, enabling the restoration of data processing.

Until recently, a weak link in the computer disaster recovery industry was telecommunications. The primary problem was in the cost of leasing dedicated redundant data lines, which would be used only in case of disaster.

Part I

The contingency planning information in this article is limited in scope to the tele-processing (TP) network and does not address the requirement for full restoration of the data center. The TP network discussed here consists of everything outside the main frame. The network includes the front-end communications processors, the telecommunications lines, modems, multiplexers, and the remote user devices.

Fundamentals

Each of your TP networks is different in some way from the others, and therefore plans can best be formulated after a careful examination of all the components in each network. This implies that a thorough inventory be undertaken.

Following a disaster, all your TP networks will not have the same level of importance in becoming operational again. You must obtain the recovery priorities from the “users” of the network. The “users’” opinions of the critical nature of each network and the resultant cost to recover must be approved by a management level high enough to warrant continuing your planning efforts and expenditures. More simply put, verify the critical nature of each network before expending a lot of effort and money.

Friday, 26 October 2007 05:05

A Failure to Communicate

Written by

The most prominent feature of the Information Age has been the marriage of computers and telecommunications. This is a positive union that supports revolutionary innovations in information technology, office automation, and business practices.

Not all the effects have been positive, however. The sophisticated abilities of data concentration and transmission to points anywhere on earth are affected by the complete reliance on telecommunications connectivity. Telecommunications is deliberately engineered to be transparent to users. The various levels of a communications architecture are hidden from ordinary users. A company’s technicians deal only with the level presented to them. They do not need to know what lies beyond.

Even in the best of circumstances, planning the installation of a new network is a demanding and time consuming task. Planning for disasters is even more complicated.

A communications network tends to be taken for granted until an incident or disaster occurs that stops the network from doing its job.

At this point, it is necessary to define some terms:

  • Incident: A disruption in service that lasts less than 24 hours.
  • Disaster: A disruption in service that lasts more than 24 hours.

When most of us think DISASTER, we think flood, hurricane, fire, earthquake, or some other cataclysmic event. We visualize anxious people scurrying around trying to save lives and protect property. There is, however, another type of disaster transpiring daily in most businesses that won’t be recognized until a cataclysmic event occurs. This disaster is the uncontrolled and unmanaged existence and growth of communications cabling and equipment.

Managing these resources requires periodic (in most cases, daily) accounting for the materials and channels of communication needed to support even a modest-sized business enterprise. Resource management is knowing where every cable pair and jack is connected and accounting for all intervening connections. Effective communications resource managers know where every valuable asset is located, who is using it, and its service history. A disaster may be caused by the simple breakdown of a vital piece of equipment. Resource management allows you to become more proactive as you respond to these breakdowns, improves the speed and quality of your recovery when a major disaster occurs, and saves you money.

Businesses rely on the use of communications, whether they are local, national, or international. Prior to the 1984 divestiture of the Bell System, computers and telephones were viewed and managed separately. Computers were primarily mainframe machines run by data processing people, while telephones were “managed” by the accounting department, which was concerned mainly with paying the bill. Both deregulation and technological developments have changed that dichotomy, blurring the distinction between computers and telephones. Both typically use the same network to transmit conversation and to transmit data between computers.

Resource management is based on the premise that the communications environment needs to be documented with current records. A multiplicity of vendors’ equipment means that no single vendor can be expected to know what is deployed at a given customer site. As farfetched as it may seem, many vendors do not know what vintage of equipment they have sold to a given customer or who the end user may have been. This information may be documented in a piecemeal fashion throughout an organization, but, in the event of a major disaster, it may not be available in a timely fashion.

Let’s look at one big incentive for managing your communications resources. One of the effects of the Bell System divestiture is that the local telephone companies are no longer required to manage premise wiring. When these “assets” are completely amortized from their ledgers, building owners and tenants will own them and be responsible for their maintenance. In many states across the country, such as California and Illinois, this announcement has already been made to businesses and home owners, and the burden of managing miles of cable and hundreds of strands of wire has been placed on the new owners. Businesses whose profits can be measured by network uptime cannot afford to lose control of such vital, detailed information regarding who is connected to what and where.

Just such a loss of control recently caused a securities firm to undergo a costly relocation to a new building. When faster and better terminals for data and voice communications were approved to enhance responsiveness to worldwide market conditions, the firm’s management suddenly realized that they did not have reliable information about their communications resources. They had no easy way to determine either the available capacity of existing cabling or its capability with the new terminals. The herculean process of answering these questions would have reduced responsiveness and disrupted business activities rather than improved them. Moving to a new building was deemed the better solution.

Can communications resources be managed? Can a situation that is out of control be tamed without major disruption and aggravation? The answer is an unqualified YES. The solution involves people and the way they perform moves, adds, changes, and deletions. So first, a process needs to be implemented which ensures that all changes are handled in a consistent and defined manner. The solution also requires using a management system tool, which both makes it easy to create a database of the assets needing to be tracked and accounts for the dynamic movement of people and equipment.

The people needed to manage these vital areas are probably already on your staff. What many of them lack is a commitment from the organization to provide them with the mission and tools needed to manage communications resources effectively.

Fortunately, more and more companies are realizing that lack of controls and tools are having a direct impact on bottom line profit/loss figures, as well as day-to-day business activities. Effective controls and procedures are currently being implemented, so you should no longer need to contend with a daily disaster.


Melvin Hale is Director of Telecommunications Services, CHI/COR Information Management, Inc.

This article adapted from Vol. 3 No. 1, p. 9.

There is a growing concern about security in communications networks, as commerce and industry have come to realize the increasing strategic importance of their telecommunications resources.

Disaster prevention and recovery has become a key issue for communications service providers, who openly admit that many major business sectors currently have no protection against catastrophic network failure.

Regional operating companies and long distance carriers are looking for ways that will provide sorely needed cost-effective protection for their major customers. This concern provides an opportunity for the development of a new and innovative network architecture, one that embraces multiple transmission media.

This article describes a cost-effective approach to disaster prevention and service restoral, based on a hybrid (terrestrial/satellite) network architecture. Typically, hybrid architectures are best developed as part of the initial design. However, the architecture proposed here offers several flexible advantages:

  • It can be integrated (overlaid) onto existing terrestrial networks--cable, fiber optic links or microwave
  • It is non-centralized, yielding no single point of failure
  • It is software defined--offering customized solutions
  • It shares peak traffic load to minimize overall cost of service restoral rather than lay dormant until called upon during disasters/outages.

Public packet switching networks such as U.S. Sprint’s Sprintnet (formerly Telenet) and British Telecom’s Tymnet allow computer systems of large and small organizations to be accessed from more than 900 U.S. cities and over 90 foreign countries. This overwhelming accessibility may be a selling point for the networks but that same accessibility is what leaves the computer systems, local area networks, electronic mail services, and everything else connected to these networks vulnerable to attack.

There are a number of reasons for turning to packet networks, their favorable disaster recovery capabilities are among them.

Communications disasters such as the 1988 fire at a Hinsdale, Illinois central office, the 1990 New York City fire which disrupted a reported 300 data centers including the American Stock Exchange have also facilitated the move toward packet switching.

If a failure occurs in one physical link of a packet switching network, another link can be substituted without affecting the user. This innate and transparent redundancy provides excellent backup protection for data centers.
Both Sprintnet and Tymnet have built and installed private packet switching networks using their own technology for a customer’s use. Some have purchased Sprintnet networks, as well as the U.S. Secret Service. Many countries use Sprintnet and Tymnet-type networks as their primary Value Added Network. A number of other private packet switching networks interface with the public networks through gateways further imperilling those hosts resident on them.

The public networks are accessible through dial-up telephone numbers in over 900 U.S. cities and also via toll free 800 numbers. The public network access numbers are available to anyone who asks for them. It is perfectly legal to dial into the networks as there is no user sign-up fee. It is what is done after making the connection that may be illegal.

Friday, 26 October 2007 04:56

Put Recovery in Place Before the Disaster

Written by

Telecommunications crises are unfortunately all too common in today’s sophisticated telecommunications environment.

Nowhere has the business impact of such a crisis been more dramatically illustrated than the May, 1988 fire at Illinois Bell’s Hindsdale substation. During that “down time,” United Airlines reported that more than 7,000 reservation calls per day went unanswered, and Sears Roebuck & Co.’s volume of catalogue orders tumbled to less than 2,300 per day down from an average of 4,000.

More recently, in October, 1989, a computer virus that swept through the AT&T national network put hundreds of thousands of telephone users out of service, causing millions of dollars to be lost as well as confounding the myriad of businesses that depend on these phones for their revenue.

What would happen to your business?

More and more frequently, business telecommunications users are asking themselves this question and decidedly answering that they could not afford to survive this type of a disaster. Now, in today’s competitive environment, they don’t have to.

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