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Tech, GP

July 30, 2011

Don't put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to Internet

Is it just my imagination, or is Internet access reliability getting worse?

I swear, every other thunderstorm which goes by leaves a bunch of people without connectivity.

If you're an individual, with just a home connection used for surfing and such, it may not be such a big deal. If you're a business that depends on the Internet, and many more businesses than you think are in that boat, it's much more of a big deal.

Just last week, while I was on vacation, I got a frantic message telling me that a customer's Internet was out.

To this customer, Internet connectivity is very important. The customer had even gone to the trouble of installing a backup Internet provider, with a completely different company, to provide service in the event that the primary provider (with a fiber optic connection, no less) goes down.

Well, the primary has gone down a couple times, and the backup has always kicked in like it's supposed to.

This time, it didn't.

Guess what? Shortly after my first message, another one came in telling me to ignore the first. What had happened was that both providers had gone down, individually, at the same time. The customer was still without service, but there was nothing we could do. At some point, the service came back to normal, but not before throwing the customer and my company into a near panic.

Now, the two Internet providers are both big-name companies that have been around for many years. I'm not going to name names, although sometimes I think perhaps I should. Both providers are well-financed, carrier-grade outfits. At least they are supposed to be.

The moral of the story: Don't put all your connectivity eggs into one basket. Maybe after this, I should rephrase it to say don't even put them all into two baskets.

At any rate, prepare to be without service once in a while.

Here's another take on the same theme. If you're a business of any size, you have more than likely already been the subject of at least one campaign by some phone company or another to try to get you change your telephone service.

The pitch typically goes something like this: "Change all of your phone lines and Internet to us, and we'll give you a price you can't refuse." It will do a "study" of your current situation, and the saving varies, but the story is the same.

Be wary. Very wary. Doing this will have some advantages, like a single bill and a single place to call for help, but it's also a "single point of failure" for your organization. Not a good idea.

Here's an example.

Suppose you run a restaurant on Main Street. It's Saturday night and the place is full. Some oddball thing happens and your Internet goes out. Power is still on, cooks are still cooking, and diners are still eating. Of course, you do half your business by credit cards these days, and as the customers get the checks, they present you with their plastic.

Huh, that's strange, the card won't go through. Guess what? The card is processed via the Internet. Now what are you going to do? Not a pleasant situation.

Now a second take on the same scenario. Same thing, but when you switched all your connectivity to that one provider, you insisted on keeping one old regular telephone line, connected to your point-of-sale system's backup modem.

This time, the credit cards get processed, although it does happen more slowly over the old telephone line. But I'm sure you'll agree that there's a big, BIG difference between "more slowly" and "not working."

Just a little food for thought as we become more and more dependent on our Internet providers.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@thedailystar.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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