5 ways to prepare for the next internet outage

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By Jason Falovo

When a network goes down, we realize how much we rely on connectivity to conduct business. The most recent nationwideoutage prompted many retailers to only accept cash, with ATMs and credit card transactions widely unavailable. Even emergency services were impacted. The outage highlighted the need for failover strategies that ensure network data can be rerouted on a secondary or back up network if the primary network link fails. 

Today, wide-area networks (WANs) are an essential component for business continuity. They’re used for mission-critical and cloud-based applications, file-sharing, collaboration, on-premise security and even the connection of Internet of Things devices.

Some businesses have never experienced a network outage, and don’t see the need to prepare. But outages can happen for many reasons, such as configuration errors, software update failures and security attacks. In some cases, it’s a disruption of the fibre cable—contractors unwittingly digging in the wrong place or even wildlife has been known to bite through fibre optic cables – everything from squirrels and raccoons to beavers and sharks. In either instance, this physical break takes a bite of our business operations and profit.

With today’s business relying on 100% uptime, many businesses are turning to hybrid WANs, which builds a secondary failover linkusing 4G LTE and 5G technology.

Let’s look at five failover strategies for keeping your business connected: 

1. Add connection diversity 
Your business’s internet connection probably depends on a single wire running to your chosen Internet service provider (ISP). This thin link to the corporate network and cloud can be disabled by any of the examples we’ve already discussed.

A quick and easy way to reduce the risk of losing connectivity is to add another WAN connection. But a second wire is susceptible to the same risks as the first one, and you might need to wait a while for installation. 

Alternatively, adding a wireless connection using LTE or 5G provides both backup and diversity to the network. If the wired connection goes down, rapid failover can seamlessly switch to the second connection, minimizing network and service disruption. 

Lower-bandwidth LTE connections might only carry critical traffic.But higher-bandwidth connections, such as Gigabit-Class LTE and 5G, can fail over all the traffic from your wired connection. You can deploy wireless failover much faster than waiting for a new wire—one to two days versus one to two months.

2. Ensure dual-carrier connectivity
As we’ve learned from recent events, it’s no longer practical to rely on just one telecom carrier or internet provider. Adding a second wireless carrier protects your business from carrier disruptions. The separate infrastructure adds network diversity, making it unlikely both would be unavailable at the same time. You can set the two connections as a primary and a backup, or use both connections in tandem to increase bandwidth. 

Larger organizations might find it cheaper and easier to negotiate and use two national wireless contracts, rather than a mix of local ISPs. Wireless WANs also make easier to open new locations or move existing ones, which can be especially useful for short-term or temporary locations. 

Many LTE or 5G routers support two modems, allowing the use of two wireless carriers and providing advanced network awareness and routing capabilities. 

3. Add hardware redundancy
A router can go offline for many reasons, and can often require a site visit to fix, leaving the location isolated until tech support arrives. Redundant or mirrored routers are an effective protection against router downtime. The routers monitor each other, and the backup automatically takes over if the primary router or WAN connectionfails, and then switches back when the primary is restored. 

With a primary and backup router IT can safely stage updates, configuration changes, and other periodic maintenance without risking business-critical communications. 

Adding different WAN connections or carriers to each router provides additional protection from common business continuity risks. If the backup router has a lower bandwidth connection, traffic policies ensure that essential traffic is prioritized. 

4. Accommodate traffic spikes
When things come back online after a prolonged outage, the amount of traffic could become too much for the available bandwidth, causing some or all applications to slow down. Sometimes even when everything is working fine, your network can be challenged by sudden traffic spikes. Increasing use of video is a leading cause, but file-sharing apps, software updates, and the rising number of connected devices are also likely contributors to traffic spikes and network congestion. 

One simple solution to traffic congestion is to use a backup wireless link to augment or offload the primary connection. As traffic builds, the secondary connection is activated, and traffic is dynamically routed to the best available path. Once the spike has passed, the wireless connection is released. All of this is fully automatic and completely invisible to staff. You can also use the secondary connection to regularly augment the network during peak periods, or reserve it for specific applications or devices. 

5. Troubleshoot networks remotely 
When a branch or a location loses its connection to the corporate network or the cloud for whatever reason, you also lose access to all of the branch devices. Network management becomes much more difficult, often requiring a site visit or painstakingly walking a local employee through the troubleshooting process.

Wireless connections provide an alternative network management option when the primary connection or device is unreachable. The ability to manage the network out-of-band – outside the primary connection – can be added to certain wireless routers, or by connecting a wireless adapter to the primary router. This allows network managers to diagnose and fix problems remotely. 

In our 24 x 7 society, every organization should have a network failover strategy to protect its ability to operate. Adding wireless connections, including support by multiple carriers, can provide the redundancy needed to keep your business resilient when networks go down. 

Jason Falovo is Vice President and General Manager, Canada at Cradlepoint, a global leader in cloud-delivered LTE and 5G wireless network edge solutions.

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