Should Your Business Have A Backup Internet Connection?

With Superstorm Nemo, or Blizzardcane Nemo, or Winter Storm Nemo… whatever they’re calling this walloping the NorthEast’s about to get, the issue of business continuity has come up with a few of our clients. In particular, the issue of backup connections has popped up a few times, as it did when the East Coast was hit by Hurricane Sandy – should your business have a backup Internet connection if you already have a DSL, or a T1, or Metro Ethernet, or even a wireless link?

Historically, we’ve always tried to make sure business clients are in the best service for their needs. If losing the Internet means your employees say “oh well” and just pick up the phone more often, a lower tiered service like DSL or cable modem may be your best fit. Low cost and high bandwidth are key points on those types of service, but outage repairs can be lengthy sometimes based on the issue at hand – some repairs can take a few days, vs. just a few hours or minutes. If your business loses the Internet and employees can’t properly perform their jobs, and your company starts losing revenue, a mission-critical service like T1 or Metro Ethernet is definitely the better option for you.

Even with mission critical lines, though, sometimes outages can occur – power surges can knock out telco equipment, heavy lines due to wind and ice or snow can come down, and bad weather can lead to phone poles being taken out due to a car accident. Sometimes accidental outages can occur, as has been the case with some major trunks being cut due to construction work here in Massachusetts.

So the question remains – should your business have a backup Internet connection?

It certainly can’t hurt to have some redundancy – different levels of service can help protect your network uptime in the event of an outage. Some higher levels of service, such as T1 and Metro Ethernet, can be combined with the same level of service from a different carrier for instance to help provide a seamless transition if one of the connections goes down for any reason.

A good rule of thumb is to go at least one service level below your current primary connection so your office can have some sort of connection in the event of an outage. For instance, if your business uses DSL, having a backup dialup account certainly couldn’t hurt, especially if your business uses that DSL line to run credit cards. The ability to use a dialup line to process customer transactions might take up a little more time (and feel a little more “old school”), but it’s certainly better than not being able to run them at all.

If your business uses a T1 line, having a backup DSL or cable modem connection can help make sure that Internet access is still available in the event of an outage. Normally, T1 outages that involve telco intervention or truck rolls are usually resolved in an hour or two, but having temporary access in the interim can definitely help keep the office connected. As an example, we have T1 clients who we also provide managed firewall services to, and have a backup DSL or cable connection provisioned as well; we can configure the firewall to automatically direct traffic to the backup DSL in the event the T1 loses connectivity.

Metro Ethernet lines tend to be extremely reliable, and carry a very high uptime SLA – usually 99.999%. Five 9’s of reliability is fantastic, and odds are if your business is using Metro Ethernet it’s because the Internet is an absolutely critical part of your business plan. So if the Internet is something that your employees absolutely cannot without, having a backup T1 line definitely couldn’t hurt in the event of a fiber cut, or central office-based issue.

It goes without saying – if all the possible wiring coming into your building is telephone pole based, and an auto accident takes out the pole directly next to your front door, then unfortunately even your backup line will go down. In those instances, having a wireless 4G card plugged into your network or firewall would definitely help. Thankfully, those instances are definitely few and far between, but the point is simply that there’s always going to be some sort of available backup connection that would fit your network and budget.

Make sure you investigate the possibility of a backup line before you actually need it! There’s nothing worse than a prolonged outage that negatively impacts your bottom line. If your company can put a dollar figure on losses for every hour your connection is done, first and foremost make sure your primary connection provides the best and most reliable uptime – then consider the smaller cost of a backup connection, so you don’t have to worry about counting those lost revenue dollars again.

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