• 06/13/2014
    7:00 AM
    Graeme Harfman
  • Graeme Harfman
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Business Continuity Options For Branch Offices

Maintaining connectivity is critical for distributed enterprises. Emerging technologies such as LTE offer alternatives for avoiding downtime.

For distributed enterprises such as retail locations, banks, restaurants, kiosks, government offices, distribution centers, or branch offices, the consequences of losing connectivity with headquarters, network operations, and secure payment processors can be severe. Lost revenue or branch office productivity are financial risks they can't afford. As a result, it's imperative to ensure network connections at distributed enterprises have adequate backup across all locations.

One option for doing this is to run two different wire lines, such as cable and DSL, with the idea that, if one line fails, the other will act as a failover solution. That system might sometimes operate as designed, but real-world scenarios have demonstrated there are some inherent risks involved.

For example, different wired connections at the last mile are still commonly run through the same conduit. When that's the case and an event physically damages the conduit, it typically takes out both connections, leaving the business with an unacceptable amount of downtime until repairs are made.

Another model for ensuring connectivity has been to insert a wireless USB in the available router port. Though this approach does offer some level of failover capability, there can be connectivity issues or poor connection speeds due to an IT closet that is in poor wireless coverage or has RF noise.

These options may still be viable for certain deployments, but IT managers need to consider leveraging emerging technologies like LTE and integrated wireless out-of-band management (OOBM) and all the cost-of-ownership factors to determine how best to maintain business continuity today and for the future.

Instant failover
The expanding availability of 4G LTE service offers an ideal opportunity for a quick and efficient failover solution when a wired connection goes down. Currently, peak LTE download speeds of 100 Mbit/s and upload speeds of 60 Mbit/s are offered in LTE failover products, allowing enterprises to keep their branch locations up and running smoothly, even when connected on wireless backup.

By deploying a 4G LTE gateway, IT managers can address the unique characteristics of distributed enterprises like retail locations, which are typically engaged in online customer transactions, require real-time access to enterprise applications, and generate revenue "in the moment."

Figure 1:

Take the example of Money Mart, a leading provider of affordable alternative financial services, with nearly 1,500 retail locations across North America and Europe. Concerned with the high costs of downtime, Money Mart embarked on a large-scale project to install backup circuits at all its retail locations using DSL as a primary connection and a LTE gateway for the backup connection.

"For Money Mart, having a backup system to process transactions is absolutely essential, because the cost of downtime is simply too high," said Pete Wilson, telecom and network administrator for Money Mart. "In testing, our 4G LTE failover solution rolled over to wireless and offered the stability we needed to seamlessly maintain operations."

Out-of-band management
Enterprise routers are typically very reliable, but in most deployments they are a single point of failure, and they may require a firmware update or sometimes just a reboot. A 4G wireless gateway with Reverse Telnet can allow remote network administrators to log in to the enterprise router console port to perform configuration updates or reset commands.

Once the initial problems on the enterprise router have been resolved via OOBM, network administrators can perform in-band management of other network connected devices. Of course, there are wireless OOBM add-on products available today, but having an integrated capability in a single form factor offers monthly telecom cost savings and a simplified installation and maintenance path, avoiding the complexities of getting standalone units "talking" to the NOC.

Figure 2:

For distributed enterprises, having a wireless OOBM connection capability represents a substantial cost saving, because in most scenarios, network issues can be dealt with remotely, preventing a costly on-site visit by a technician.

Today, most individuals are likely to become annoyed when they lose Internet access, but for distributed enterprises such as retailers, the consequences are more substantial. The financial impact of losing connectivity is far too great, so implementing a wireless backup system -- one specifically tailored to mitigate financial risk -- should be a critical consideration.


Wireless LTE is a good backup option, if available

If you are located in a large urban area chances are there is good LTE 4G conectivity. And LTE is, as pointed out in the article, a good backup option since is not sharing the same circuits as DSL, cable and Fiber.

But LTE is not everywhere. Many places in Europe are still rolling out the infrastructure, and 3G HSDPA is not reliable due to saturation.

When evaluating different options corporations need to check the possibilities in every location.

Re: Wireless LTE is a good backup option, if available

Good point Pablo. I'm not sure of the situation in the U.S., but it seems this would be an issue for distributed enterprise with branch offices located outside of large urban areas.

Re: Wireless LTE is a good backup option, if available

What about the power considerations? Many times when there is a big weather event, for example, the failure is not necessarily in the communication line but in the disruption of power. I'm sure the towers have backup generators, but they only last so long.

Re: Wireless LTE is a good backup option, if available

Great point, power is the backbone on which the infrastructure of networks are based, in this regard, it is nice to do business with data service providers that not only have backup units installed (battery bank), but have also embraced on-site renewable energy generation. In normal operations these towers can be net generators of energy and during extended periods of blackouts, caused by bad weather, they can be self-sustaining.

Re: Wireless LTE is a good backup option, if available

Thanks for reading the article Pablo and Marcia, You are both correct in that LTE is still in a rollout stage around the world, and certainly distributed enterprises should discuss current and planned coverage at each location with Mobile Network Operators. Operators are internally motivated to move to LTE due to its efficiencies in RF and network infrastructure and customers are motivated to use LTE due to lower latency and higher bandwidth. In my mind, this creates a perfect storm for operators to drive aggressive LTE rollout and use it as competitive differentiation.

Re: Wireless LTE is a good backup option, if available

Alas, LTE is like an Olympic runner just coming out of the bathroom with his pants still around his ankles.  Yeah, he's super fast and can perform tremendously well, but he's in too damn big of a hurry and needs to take a moment to pull his pants up, clean himself up, and get it together.

Certainly not helping matters was Apple's declination to support 4G in the Apple 4S release because its/Jobs's dim view of the quality of LTE chipsets at that stage.

4G LTE service

Good job, 4G LTE has the potential to be a development direction for telecommunication.


As far as routers go, there's also the point that the government is on record as reporting that it prefers to target routers because they are -- well -- easy targets.

(Indeed, this is believed to be how GCHQ compromised Belgacom.)

Re: Security/Privacy

You stated ' For example, different wired connections at the last mile are still commonly run through the same conduit. When that's the case and an event physically damages the conduit, it typically takes out both connections, leaving the business with an unacceptable amount of downtime until repairs are made.'

This is very important concept and last mile , aggregation or even core of the networks might have shared infrastucture. Generally because the same transport equipment , same fiber conduit etc. If they share the infrastructure , we call this as fate sharing but commonly this concept is known as Shared Risk Link Group or SRLG.

In the core of the networks, if there are more than two paths, IP and MPLS traffic engineering is used to diverge the path to non shared risk link group paths.


3G, Satellite, 4G , LTE all can be used as backup and even as load balanced.

If latency is high over 3G, 4G link compare to link which is considered as primary, applications which require high bandwith ( such as FTP ) can be sent through 3G,4G and applications which require low latency, low packet loss  ratio ( such as voice and video ) can be send through primary link ( Ideally MPLS, DWDM,Dark Fiber , SDH ).



Re: Security/Privacy

Agreed, data connectivity is very important in today's business environment, another important consideration are the employees of the business that are at the last mile of the data.

Firstly, the importance of connectivity needs to be understood through-out the organization, and secondly, the retail manager of the location needs to prioritize tasks, for instance, at times when the primary line is down (the secondary line is still operational and the business remains functioning) -- efforts to restore the primary line should be prioritized by the branch.

Normally, at home when the primary DSL link goes down, individuals begin to use their mobile data through tethering, a business can also benefit from tethering -- creating a third layer of security, if they are flexible with connectivity. BYOD and BYOA have been in the enterprise since some time now, maybe, BYOC will become the same.