In the aftermath of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy, renewed focus on planning for catastrophic incidents can actually undermine effective preparedness for more likely events and distort perception of risk in a way that makes businesses more vulnerable.

In a spectrum of risks, high-severity, low-frequency events are major natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes. On the other hand, there are high-frequency, low-severity disasters, such as human errors, computer crashes and power outages. Disasters such as fires and floods fall somewhere in between.

“We often focus on the catastrophic risks, those at the far right end of the spectrum,” says Mike Maloney, vice president, Comcast Business Services. “We assume that preparing for the worst-case scenario automatically includes preparation for all lesser risks. But, it hardly makes sense to initiate a full-blown disaster recovery plan every time the business experiences a minor deviation in operations. That is too expensive and cumbersome.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how preparing for everyday disasters can keep your company — and its technology — on track.

Why is it especially important to prepare for everyday disasters?

If you prepare for the everyday disaster,  you will also be ready to address the more serious and less likely threats. For example, power outages commonly occur on a standalone basis, such as brownouts during the summer months with peak air conditioning usage, but power outages also follow more serious threats like hurricanes.

How can you guard against human error?

Human error is the most common form of disaster. Of course, the best way to address this is to ensure proper staff training and good management practices. But, you will also need a strategy to mitigate cost when error does occur, such as on-demand, user-generated data backups and clear recovery procedures.

What’s the best strategy for preparing for equipment or third-party failures?

By making good vendor selections and following proper equipment maintenance procedures, you reduce the frequency of occurrence. Also, build in redundancy for when those failures will occur and have extra equipment in inventory.

Third-party failures are the failures of service providers needed to deliver products and services like telecommunications. The basic strategy is to invest in due diligence to make wise choices for third-party vendors to entrust with your critical services, negotiate appropriate service guarantees and support, and build in redundancy to cope with failure when it occurs.

How is planning for environmental hazards extended to more severe threats?

Environmental hazards are conditions that displace staff and could be as trivial as a water pipe bursting and flooding the office. So, plan for human safety and assure the technology is in place to enable temporary remote operations. This concept is extended for fire, natural hazards and sabotage, which pose more severe threats to safety and longer periods of remote operations.

Once you’ve established your planning framework, what’s next?

The next step is to identify the business’s key assets, which may sound simplistic but is not necessarily obvious. For example, a small software development company insured its property, so after a fire, it was fully reimbursed for the replacement costs of office furnishings. But its critical asset was its intellectual property, embedded in hundreds of thousands of lines of software code. The company had failed to back up the software and subsequently went out of business. If it had a severe budget constraint, as start-ups often do, it would have been better served to forfeit insurance on physical assets and invest in off-site secure data backup.

In addition to determining how best to protect the business, this provides insights as to how to better manage the course of normal operations. Several years ago, a disgruntled systems administrator of the city of San Francisco refused to relinquish key passwords to computer systems controlling, among other functions, employee payroll. A little due diligence to understand the key processes, assets and functions of operations might have revealed this vulnerability.

Mike Maloney is a vice president at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in National

Interconnecting three or more sites across a metro or wide area network has traditionally been accomplished via a hub and spoke network using private lines, frame relay or Internet Protocol virtual private networks (IP VPN) over the Internet. However, Ethernet services are a cost-effective alternative that can also support hub and spoke topologies as well as a unique, “any-to-any” network topology.

Both Ethernet methods can achieve secure, high performance multi-site connectivity with full IP transparency, but by weighing the differences in the two methods, you can impact IT operations, management and cost, says Mike Maloney, vice president at Comcast Business Class.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about considerations and best practices when connecting three or more sites via Ethernet.

Why use Ethernet services in the first place?

Because most applications today are IP-based, you could presume IP VPNs are more suitable than Ethernet VPNs. While both deliver connectivity, there are three benefits of Ethernet VPNs:

• Security — Ethernet services are immune to certain Internet-based threats, such as the popular IP denial of service attacks.

• Quality of service (QoS) performance — Ethernet services run over the service provider’s managed network, resulting in better control, more predictable performance and more service availability.

• IP transparency — Ethernet services don’t require IP routing information to be shared with the service provider, enabling companies to keep their existing IP address with freedom to expand.

What are the advantages of using either hub and spoke or multi-point connectivity?

With hub and spoke, sites connect through the hub site to communicate with any other site. The benefit is centralized traffic routing, requiring simpler and lower cost routers to attach to the spoke sites since these locations only make a direct, point-to-point connection to the hub.

Any-to-any connectivity enables all sites to communicate with each other over the wide area network. One advantage is simplicity in adding new sites to the shared service across the network. Routers at each site automatically discover new sites with no additional device configuration changes.

How can you decide which is better?

In addition to service pricing and availability, assessing your current and future needs will help determine the more appropriate Ethernet service:

• Adding bandwidth — With hub and spoke, you can add more bandwidth until it exceeds the physical speed port, and then, there’s the capital expense of the higher-speed port and possibly additional service cost to upgrade the on-site equipment. However, you can selectively apply bandwidth upgrades to specific spoke sites. With any-to-any, bandwidth is increased at the particular site, which could result in a service disruption at the local site.

• Adding sites — When adding to hub and spoke, the service provider connects the new spoke to the existing hub site, requiring a software configuration change and possibly a reboot. Adding a site to any-to-any doesn’t require service disruption.

• Traffic flow patterns — A hub and spoke approach works well if most of the communications are to a particular site, such as regional sites connecting to a headquarters site or data center. It’s also well suited for centralized IT management of Internet access, email and storage. An any-to-any approach is most sound when regular communications are required between two or more sites.

• QoS performance — With hub and spoke technology, bandwidth, packet latency and packet loss are more granularly engineered and managed per site. Each site’s bandwidth and QoS performance can be unique with each site’s costs more accurately allocated.

An any-to-any implementation enables bandwidth to increase or sites to be added without impacting other connected sites. However, since it is a shared resource, bandwidth, management and QoS performance may need to be monitored more closely. This approach also can support many applications requiring different QoS performance such as IP telephony (VoIP) and IP video.

Mike Maloney is vice president at Comcast Business Class. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

 

Published in National

The Internet is an integral part of doing business — from sending emails and hosting a website to setting up virtual private networks and interconnecting locations. Today, more than ever, organizations require reliable Internet connectivity with increasingly higher speeds to satisfy growing application requirements, while carefully managing IT costs.

“Internet usage continues to grow and evolve significantly from its simpler Web browsing and email origins,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Organizations, large and small, now extensively rely on the Internet to increase productivity, provide business-to-business or business-to-consumer services, streamline their supply chain and outsource IT applications to reduce costs.”

With Internet bandwidth requirements continually increasing, Ethernet dedicated Internet access is becoming a cost-effective and more flexible option to connect to the Internet, Maloney says.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how Ethernet stacks up against T1 connections.

How has the adoption of new technology increased the need for better Internet connections? 

The potential for new technology to lower the cost of business operations is clear. For example, by moving applications to hosted or ‘cloud-based’ services, an organization can eliminate the capital expense of the application servers and operational expense of software licenses and support, while reducing the burden on their IT support staff. Spending on public IT cloud offerings is forecast to reach $55.5 billion in 2014, representing a 27.4 percent compound annual growth rate, according to a recent report from the International Data Corporation. This rapid growth rate is more than five times the projected growth rate for traditional IT products.

Meanwhile, utilizing this new technology will require a higher-speed Internet connection. An organization’s bandwidth requirements may increase due to:

  • An increasing number of visitors to your locally hosted public website for e-commerce transactions.

  • An increasing use of cloud-based services where you move applications from running locally to a remote data center or hosted server in the cloud.

The capital expenditure and recurring operating savings of cloud-based services typically provide a better return on investment than the additional Internet bandwidth costs. During times of accelerated growth, organizations can leverage the Internet to rapidly respond to increased productivity and supply chain, while carefully managing costs.

How have businesses been using T1-dedicated Internet access?

A popular way for organizations to connect to the Internet has been via a T1-based dedicated Internet access (DIA) service. T1 DIA services are typically offered over one or two T1 circuits so the bandwidth options are limited, inflexible and costly as an organization’s bandwidth and application requirements grow. To be competitive, you need to quickly and cost-effectively adapt your Internet access bandwidth, so T1 DIA services are challenged to meet these elastic bandwidth requirements.

With a single T1 circuit operating at 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), you need to purchase upgraded service to get more bandwidth, which may require a new T1 router to support the bonding of the two T1 circuits. Typically, that will cost another setup charge, as well as a higher monthly recurring cost for the service. Additionally, there will be service disruption if you must replace the existing T1 equipment, and new equipment or circuits may delay the upgrade days or even weeks.

Many T1 DIA service providers cannot provide Internet access beyond two T1s. If your Internet access bandwidth needs increase beyond that, you will have to switch to a different technology with higher bandwidth choices.

Why is Ethernet-dedicated Internet access a better choice for businesses?

Ethernet DIA services are typically delivered over a single Ethernet fiber optic connection that can handle any amount of bandwidth between 1 Mbps and 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). Ethernet DIA service can be purchased in flexible bandwidth increments up to the Ethernet port speed, and the port speed depends upon your initial and anticipated bandwidth needs for the duration of the service agreement. A 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port speed is sufficient for most organizations. Unlike T1-based DIA services, Ethernet DIA services are not offered based on circuit speed.

Capital expenses are also low to non-existent with Ethernet DIA. If your building does not have a fiber optic connection, your Ethernet DIA provider will deliver a fiber optic connection, which has a one-time cost associated with that installation. Otherwise, if you can use an available Ethernet port on your router you are ready to go, as the Ethernet DIA service demarcation device is included in the setup cost. Ethernet DIA enables you to better manage your IT capital and operating expenditures during varying economic cycles. Cost savings can be achieved because you don’t have to switch Internet access technologies or providers when your organization’s bandwidth needs exceed 3 Mbps (two T1s).

Your Ethernet DIA service provider can remotely reconfigure the Ethernet service demarcation device to support the new bandwidth you require, and you can continue to use the service up until that upgraded amount. If the Ethernet service demarcation device needs to be restarted, you may only experience a minimal service disruption. This is in contrast to T1 DIA service, where new equipment and new, higher speed circuits may take days or even weeks to get implemented.

Organizations increasingly utilize the Internet as a critical business tool, and Ethernet-based DIA services provide many benefits over T1-based DIA services. The most obvious benefit is higher bandwidth. Ethernet DIA services also enable organizations to more quickly and cost-effectively add Internet access bandwidth to optimally manage their IT costs while they grow their business.

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

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