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Protecting and Diversifying Critical Telecommunications Services

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In this first article of a new three-part series, Leo Wrobel takes a broad-brush view of the importance of telecommunications in today's business and the precautions you should take in advance to maintain the integrity of your telecom network.
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Over the past few years, the prevalence of telecommunications services in support of today’s businesses has created new areas of concern to contingency planners. Indeed, entire new mediums of doing business, including "businesses without storefronts" have come to dominate the landscape. It is, therefore, important to understand the new dynamics inherent within these enterprises because most make money without ever seeing a customer come through the door.

Today’s e-commerce obviously depends on a strong integration of telecommunications with distributed data processing. These configurations are often referred to as a seamless solution.

Figure 1 (from one of my previous articles) represents a hypothetical manufacturing company that is deeply dependent on both information and telecommunication technology. For companies like this one, when telecommunications fails, the cash register stops since virtually all its business comes over the phone or Internet, in a manner designed to make it easy for the customer to buy.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Seamless solution

Reprinted with Permission from Business Resumption Planning, Second Edition, by Leo A. Wrobel © 2007 Auerbach/Taylor Publishing, New York

The first thing you’ll note in Figure 1 is that the process, like any good process, begins and ends with the customer. Starting on the left side of the diagram, you see a customer dialing in, probably on an incoming 800 number to a customer service center. (This can also be described using the Internet as the customer access method—consider Ebay for example)

This customer service center will naturally utilize many types of technology to handle the load. In the inbound call processing mode, it would probably include Automated Call Distribution (ACD) equipment designed to handle heavy inbound call loads and service customers promptly.

In the Ebay or Amazon.com model, data routing equipment is in place to handle customers from the Internet. To make it even more confusing, there is no more voice and no more data—strictly speaking, anyway. Both technologies are now based largely on I/P packets.

So you see, voice is really data, and data is still data. Any questions? For the non–telecom-savvy recovery planner, such nuances are enough to boggle the mind.

Whether the customer is on the phone or a PC, either seamless solution is designed to do the same thing: respond quickly, efficiently, and accurately to a customer’s inquiry while the customer is on the phone and hot to buy.

In this mode of operation what might have been "I’ll call you back later" now becomes "How many would you like to order RIGHT NOW?" That’s because telecom services (voice or data) allow the customer easy access, and other technology places all the tools needed to close the sale within easy reach of the person making the sale.

Naturally, management loves systems like these because they substantially increase sales. That’s why companies buy so many of them. If there is one thing that I have learned in my 21 years in disaster recovery, however, it’s that the capability to back up a system usually delays its installation by a few years. Perhaps that is why you are interested in this article.

If you are trying to update your disaster recovery plan to reflect these new realities, this series will demonstrate a few tricks of the trade. These tips will help maintain the integrity of these important systems and increase their resiliency in a disaster.

Backing Up Today’s Seamless Applications

With this understanding, look at Figure 1 from a disaster recovery perspective. Which circle is most important in the process, as far as the company’s long-term profitability? Most would answer, "The customer service function," and this answer is probably correct because the walk-in market for many of today’s enterprises is nonexistent.

Therefore, as technologists, our job becomes one of looking at what technical platforms support the Customer Service Center (whether voice or data communications) and making them as fault-tolerant and resilient as possible.

Part of this process is to select equipment with a very low mean time between failure (MTBF) rate for use within the organization. Another is to scan the area that contains the equipment for obvious threats, such as storing combustibles in a critical telephone or server closet.

An equally important part of the process is telecommunications, which can be tough because this part of the seamless solution is not always under your direct control. It may, in fact, reside with multiple vendors who do not work for you. For that reason you will be tasked with selecting telecommunication providers capable of providing diversity and fault-tolerance in their networks. This is especially important today when options for vendors are becoming more limited, and in many ways the public network is remonopolizing.

With this in mind, let’s start with two questions about telecom diversity:

  • Do you need two separate carriers to have telecommunications diversity?
  • Can you have telecommunications diversity from a single carrier?

The answer to the first question is "no." The answer to the second question is "yes." There, in two lines you have your executive summary. The reasons why this is true however will fill the rest of this article (and also the next two), so read on for a few tips.


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