Here's why you need redundant communication systems.
By Mike Talon
When developing a disaster recovery plan, you should always consider more than simply the data you're trying to protect. Many DR plans have failed miserably--even when proper data backups occurred.
One aspect that organizations often overlook in their DR planning is communication systems. Data systems require communication systems to work properly, but companies often neglect to protect them.
When dealing with DR planning, communications usually fall into two major categories: digital and physical. Both are necessary to properly ensure that data systems will be up and running as soon as possible, but they approach communications from different angles.
Digital communications concern data systems talking to each other, and they include both internal and external networking, as well as VPN systems and other intrasite communications tools. This category covers DR methodologies such as ensuring more than one connection to the outside world and making sure that VPN connections can interact with any location that might contain viable data systems.
Most small and midsize companies can't afford completely redundant connectivity--multiple, high-speed links can quickly become budget-breakers. However, some form of additional connectivity can almost always be feasible within your expense limits.
For example, you can obtain broadband links from most cable companies and telephone providers at a reasonable price to use as emergency communication systems. The bandwidth will likely be considerably lower than normal, and you'll probably need to reroute external users over new IP subnets. But during an emergency, you'll be able to allow the data systems you're protecting to reach the outside world.
VPN and other remote access systems are a great way to allow people to use data systems while away from the office and still maintain security. They can also allow for secure data transmission between sites for services and systems in disparate locations.
However, in the event of failover between sites, you must ensure that these same VPN systems can access the DR location and communicate properly with it. Failure to do so could leave you with perfectly functioning data systems and no way to access them from outside the internal network.
Physical communications are also vital to a successful DR plan. Many organizations rely solely on pager alerts or another form of e-mail-based notification for emergencies.
This type of system works great--until the e-mail server system falls prey to a disaster. While many companies use mobile phone systems for backup, there are a great number of firms that don't have such systems in place.
Counting on land lines as secondary communication systems is often an option. But during large-scale disasters (such as flood, fire, terrorist activity, etc.), such systems can easily fail.
Of course, nearly every communication system can fail. That's why using multiple systems offers the highest probability that communications and alerts will get through in a crisis.
Communications will always take a backseat to protecting the data that represents your business. However, reserving funds and expertise to make sure your employees and your data systems can talk to each other during an emergency is always a wise investment.
Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.