Persuading a company to adopt a communications disaster recovery plan can be a feat in itself. Despite the importance of secure communications, organizations often are hesitant to implement such programs because they can be expensive. But not every facet of disaster recovery is costly, according to Sandra Bloomfield, assistant vice president of telecommunications for the Delaware Group, a mutual fund company headquartered in Philadelphia.
“Disaster recovery plans can be expensive, which is why many organizations don’t have them. But such plans are vital for any company relying on its telecommunications for survival. Therefore, it seems rather senseless to ignore the areas that don’t cost more money, such as switching certain network components to equipment that gives the safety of redundancy and diversity without a big upfront investment,” Bloomfield said.
Exploring Competitive Access Options
Bloomfield said she considered three Philadelphia competitive access carriers for the Delaware Group’s local access disaster prevention program.
The second competitive local access provider Bloomfield met with did not impress her either she said, adding that “the company did not offer me any advantage over my current service with the local phone company.”
Ultimately, Bloomfield selected service from an alternative fiber optic network to provide communications between her company’s headquarters and its long distance carrier. The company installed the network on six of its 10 T-spans used to link 300 employees housed in a building at One Commerce Plaza with the company communications systems at the 10 Penn center headquarters.
The Delaware Group uses a PBX with 10 T-1 circuits connecting a remote site, also located in Philadelphia, to the company’s headquarters in order for all of the users to share the same system. The Delaware Group also had 102 long distance lines, now switched to four T-1s, for incoming 800 calls and a wide array of communication peripherals.
Bloomfield said the company switched several of the T-1s to the alternate network for diverse communications. Additionally, the unlimited bandwidth provided by the fiber optic network is an added assurance. “If we do experience an outage withour Bell lines, by having more than half our circuits on the fiber optic network, we can reroute over fiber optics and salvage our communications system.”
Battery backup to redundant electronic equipment is another preventitive step that should be provided to network users. If electrical power is interrupted, the network would automatically and immediately switch to battery backup with no service interruption. For example, the October 17, 1989, earthquake in San Francisco caused widespread power outages, but the San Francisco network remained fully operational by switching immediately to battery backup.
Hinsdale Disaster Spurs Delaware Group to Implement Disaster Prevention Program
Bloomfield said that the fire at the Illinois Bell Hinsdale, IL plant in May, 1988, which knocked out service to 35,000 area residents and 680,000 other customers for nearly a month, made her realize the importance of implementing a disaster prevention and recovery plan for her company.
“The Delaware Group is in a very time-sensitive business, and we can’t afford any downtime whatsoever,” explained Bloomfield. “If we’re out even a few minutes, it could be a disaster.
“The Hinsdale fire has become synonymous with the need for telecommunications disaster planning,” she explained. “After it happened, I attended several seminars on disasster recovery to look at the various alternative local access options available for protecting The Delaware Group’s communications system.”
Network Redundancy, Diversity and Service Attract Delaware Group
While Bloomfield is impressed with the overall operations of the fiber optics network, she said the overriding appeal is its redundancy and diversity. The network uses a loop architecture which provides two paths out of each building on the network. If one path becomes obstructed, communications will automatically reroute to the clear path within 20 milliseconds, a timeframe indiscernable to customers, by switching to backup electronic cards and an alternate route.
Delaware Group Finds Peace of Mind Service
Initially, the alternate fiber optics network provided the Delaware Group with a T-1 circuit linking the company to its long distance carrier. “The change over in March 1989 was invisible,” Bloomfield recalled. “In fact, we experienced absolutely no downtime or any indication that the switch was occurring.”
Bloomfield said that the company has taken the next step in its disaster recovery program by replacing six of its 10 Bell of Pennsylvania T-1 circuits with fiber optics circuits, linking the company’s remote Philadelphia site with the communications network at its main location.
“Obviously, there are several dimensions to devising a disaster recovery program,” Bloomfield said. “But the alternative carrier provided me with a sure-fire way to build my company’s confidence in such a program without a major financial investment.”
Rick Kozak is the Senior Vice President of Network Services at Metropolitan Fiber Systems, Inc.
This article adapted from Vol. 4, No. 3, p. 34.