By Simon Watts, Chief Engineer, Hughes Europe.
Generally recognised as a central element within an organization’s broader business continuity strategy, disaster recovery planning involves the restoration of those business critical processes and of technology infrastructure after a major disruption to the business.
The disaster may be natural or man-made. It may affect many thousands of families and businesses, such as a major flood or earthquake. By contrast, it may directly impact just a single business, such as a network failure at an individual motorway petrol station causing dangerous traffic tailbacks.
Common to each however is the need to minimise the impact of any disruption to communications and, where needed, help the emergency services restore normality to businesses and individuals alike.
No system can guarantee 100 percent availability. However, where the network is vital to the maintenance of the business, the right level of resilience must be built in to ensure the network does not fail under normal circumstances. The key to coping with, any disruptive event or challenge is to remove all potential single points of failure.
Here, resilience applies both at a technical level - to the network and related equipment - and to those systems (people and processes) which most appropriately support the network. In enhancing communications resilience therefore, a number of key steps must be taken.
In planning to cope with any emergency, it is essential to identify those communications activities which are central to any response arrangements. At the same time, the technologies required to carry out these communications must also be in place, with sufficient diversity yet within the context of the business and associated cost constraints. This means typically taking a layered approach, in which the fallback solutions may not provide the same high-level SLAs as the primary communications solution, but will mitigate unavailability by carrying core traffic in ensuring an agreed minimum level of continuity.
And finally, there needs to be interoperability at both a technical level - which ensures seamless communications between the primary and back-up platforms, such as the PSTN and the supporting mobile or satellite network – and at a procedural level, which may include using agreed call signs and communications disciplines.
This is best delivered by an integrated network services solution, which can provide fully managed and supported multi-national connectivity, as well as high availability and optimised networks and access continuity to achieve enhanced resilience.
Under normal conditions, primary terrestrial communications solutions provide a high level of resilience, yet installing a separate back-up to a second exchange is likely to be prohibitively costly, especially in more remote locations. Similarly, wireless can today provide a highly cost-effective alternative: however, this too will be dependent on the core terrestrial network and is also vulnerable to congestion and outages.
In providing rapid back-up in an emergency, wireless and satellite communications can be moved to the disaster site and deployed rapidly. In addition, satellite can very easily accommodate two routes to different satellite connections: at the same time, this flexibility also ensures that it is easy to allocate appropriate bandwidth to meet demand.
Depending on the application and the environment, the bottom line is that the most appropriate disaster recovery solution is likely to combine a mix of primary and back-up communications technologies.
With terrestrial communications typically knocked out of action as a result of an earthquake, flood or bomb, rescue efforts can be hampered by the inability of support teams to communicate effectively with each other or the outside world and so provide a fully co-ordinated response.
In addressing this, satellite broadband is readily available to provide the rapid two-way communications required. Solutions can be scaled to cover different scenarios, from single node, through major node to total network failure. And in addition to providing emergency support where existing systems are overloaded or out of service, mobile broadband technologies can also provide for planned activities, such as international sports events, where the normal infrastructure cannot cope.
Support will be required at each of the four main phases of a disaster, in ensuring continuity of operations at every stage.
In the immediate aftermath of an incident, vehicles fitted with advanced satellite broadband systems provide the ideal degree of mobility to be delivered and installed on-site quickly and provide the secure, easy-to-deploy and cost-effective bandwidth required. The rapid availability of mobile broadband is not just important in supporting the emergency services but is also critical in getting businesses up and running as quickly as possible.
And, in a world where people are used to being connected all the time, whether by mobile phone, Blackberry or iPhone, it provides essential communications for individuals affected by the disaster to let others know they are safe or to find out what is happening.
During the subsequent recovery phase, mobile communications are also key to restoring normal services as part of the broader reconstruction and rehabilitation effort. Over the longer term, in addition to the need for business continuity connections to be repaired or installed in order to prevent or mitigate the impact of any future interruption, there will also be a need for training and education to ensure relevant lessons are learned.
And finally, communications also plays a critical role in the ongoing preparedness phase, in reliable data gathering and alarms, in making sure that civic authorities, businesses and individuals are fully ready for, and get early warning of, any future threat.
The key to improving the speed and quality of response is the greater availability of resilient broadband capacity. And here a number of developments are helping make this available to all those involved in dealing with disasters, of whatever scale and however remote the geography.
Central to this is the increase in Ka-band capacity. As part of this, 2010 will see the launch of HYLAS by Avanti, Europe’s first dedicated high-throughput Ka-band broadband satellite.
Critically, this will provide high-performance broadcast and data communications services to a wide range of market segments, including broadband Internet access to remote and rural areas currently underserved by terrestrial networks. HYLAS will reduce the overall operating costs of satellite services, both in bandwidth utilisation and systems hardware. This increases the range of applications that can be accessed remotely via satellite broadband in a cost effective fashion meaning there are more opportunities to deploy these systems.
The benefits of BGAN (Broadband Global Network) are also currently being made more widely available, enabling enterprise and individuals to realise the benefits of full satellite communications, by providing two-way voice and data access, wherever they are located.
By using a small lightweight satellite terminal, the BGAN service is based on robust proven technologies and allows any organization to set up a broadband mobile office in minutes from anywhere in the world. Capable of operating outside in extreme conditions, it will provide maximum bandwidth and supporting WLAN connectivity and other standard data interfaces.
In an emergency situation therefore, it is ideal both for either single users such as press journalists with bandwidth-hungry applications including live video, or for small emergency teams needing a temporary office with full two-way links to the outside world.
Help for all
The ability of a mobile disaster response unit incorporating satellite broadband to assess the impact of a disaster and take appropriate action doesn’t just apply to remote locations. In the aftermath of an explosion at a chemical plant in Romulus, Michigan in 2005, the US Environmental Protection Agency adopted satellite broadband in meeting the need for high speed mobile Internet access to quickly assess the environmental impact of the blast and determine whether the resulting fumes and dust were toxic.
Whilst providing support services with the communications needed to do their job effectively, it should be recognised that broadband communications can also be used to meet the needs of individuals caught up in the disaster. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for example, satellite broadband technology provided essential communications to a warehouse supplying temporary accommodation, together with access to cash by enabling mobile ATMs.
In delivering such broadly-based benefits, the best of today’s mobile VSAT solutions are capable of rapid deployment, require little support infrastructure and are secure and low-cost. In addition, they can be adapted to offer many different services, from low bandwidth services such as ATMs and monitoring, through Internet and VoIP to high bandwidth applications such as news gathering.
In today’s world, people are used to being connected all of the time. Modern broadband technologies allow us to stay in contact, both at a business and a personal level, wherever we are. This same high quality communication capability is ready to support planning for, coping with and recovering from disaster situations. It should never be the weak link in the chain.
•Date: 16th Dec 2009• Region: UK/World •Type: Article •Topic: Telecoms continuity
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