It's odd to think that there may actually be reason to thank Hurricane Sandy, the storm that only days ago took lives and destroyed property on a grim march through large portions of New England. But in this case, there is reason, as the storm illuminated a critical failing in modern networks: specifically, their inability to operate independently of the electrical grid for any length of time.
With cell phone service still best-described as spotty and the landline phones having much less trouble, the critical flaw is made clear for all to see. Landlines, receiving power via a central phone office, are allowing people to make contact with friends and family while cell phones are sitting the recovery phase out. Any backup systems the mobile networks were using were clearly not meant to last any length of time, as is evident by the frequent network outages. Amazingly, pay phones were finding themselves in the midst of something of a renaissance on the streets of New York City as users were unable to make contact with their smartphones.
Verizon’s (News - Alert) headquarters, Sandy 2012
In a recent blog post, XS International, a provider of cross-platform OEM and alternative IT maintenance, data center consolidation, data center relocation, IT asset disposition and IT hardware and software sales, explored what happens to mobile networks when the power goes out. Cell phone towers are particularly susceptible to weather-related failings, with high winds assaulting the elevated tower portion and the workings closer to the ground under siege by flooding. Worse, neither of these do much good without power, and backup systems designed to last hours rather than days will turn the cell phone network into little more than a ruin before recovery is complete. Attempting to repair these facilities requires repair crews to go to difficult places to reach, often located at high elevations and especially tough to reach without powered elevators and the like.
While the use of cloud-based technology is providing something of an extra punch for disaster recovery and business continuity, it also is a double-edged sword. The rise of bring your own device (BYOD) means that if employees don't have network access of some type, they're simply offline for the duration. Offline employees don't produce, and non-producing employees are a double whammy to profits.
Networks need robust backups. Networks need to be able to operate for extended periods in harsh conditions in order to be truly viable. Otherwise, what we're left with is a fair-weather network, connections that last as long as the sun shines and the wind stays at a gentle breeze. Admittedly, planning networks that can stand off hurricanes may be a bit excessive—not to mention expensive—but having a disaster plan that's prepared for the worst is simply going to have to be the new standard measure if anyone expects the next generation of networking technology to be truly viable.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey