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Using Satellite Communications for Disaster Recovery, Part 2

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In the second installment of his informative series on disaster recovery, Leo A. Wrobel continues pulling together and applying his expert knowledge of control, communications, computers, and intelligence through technologies available to you today.
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Welcome back. We ended the last article with a promise to come back with more tips on how satellite communications can add immeasurably to your organization’s capability to recover after a disaster. This time, we include a few actual examples of successful uses for this communications technology as well as common configurations.

Why Use Satellite for Disaster Recovery?

Satellite is highly survivable in and of itself, both in terms of physical equipment as well as robustness of the technology itself. As I stated in Part I, satellite is essentially microwave radio aimed upward. As a wireless technology, it is not susceptible to the notorious "backhoe fade" that often plagues today’s communications-dependent organizations. Satellite is also independent of the terrestrial infrastructure. This could be significant since the communications systems in many Third World countries may leave much to be desired. The path diversity or physical redundancy of this medium pays dividends during normal operation, particularly in areas prone to frequent circuit outages. In addition, the equipment is becoming increasingly compact, with truck-mounted transmitters, or "uplinks," becoming commonplace.

Just as it was for the hapless time travelers I mentioned last time, such a link might become your only connection to a twenty-first century communications infrastructure in the event of a widespread event. Finally, some organizations use satellite for "surge capacity" when network conditions warrant. With I/P infrastructures becoming commonplace, it is easy to cycle up satellite links as an additional path when extra capacity is needed. This has the added benefit of testing or exercising your disaster recovery link on a regular basis. If the satellite link is used from time to time for overflow capability, you can be pretty much assured that it will work if a disaster occurs and it suddenly must become the primary path.

If you are in an area prone to widespread disasters, (hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and so on), satellites are worth a serious look. A couple of things to look out for are included in the issue of mobility. A few of my clients have learned some serious lessons in this regard. I won’t name the clients, but can convey the lesson. One client was a large insurance company that had to respond to a series of devastating hurricanes in Florida. I never realized until then how important physical landmarks are to human beings who need to find their way around. Imagine several cities completely flattened and devoid of buildings, trees, road signs, and so on. Florida does not even have many hills. In this case the topography was a veritable moonscape and it was many weeks before claims could be processed for some of the affected populace.

So what became the ideal solution for the next series of hurricanes? Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which are based on satellite technology. It’s a funny thing, but that "lady-in-the-box" that navigates us in the rental car will still know where she is after a hurricane. Her directions are based on V and H (vertical and horizontal) coordinates, not on physical landmarks. This means you will always be able to tell where your business used to be—even if it’s not there any more.

While we are talking about mobility, consider what it might be like to try to navigate downtown Los Angeles with a foot of glass and deep crevices in the streets. Or getting around the Gulf coast when all the bridges are out—particularly to hundreds of miles of barrier islands. Before you buy into a satellite solution, no matter how good it is, ask the provider how he or she will get the equipment where it will be needed.

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