By Peter J. Brown
Recovery. Restoration. Continuity. These are not new buzzwords. They have taken on new meaning, however, as a result of the intensified planning and preparation underway throughout the past year. This effort is intended to yield quicker and more effective responses across the board to large-scale disasters, natural and otherwise.
The satellite industry is standing by with an instantaneously activated and sustainable communications solution. At first glance, providing back-up links and Business Continuity Services (BCS) may not appear to be highly specialized offerings; but, in the stressful environment where these services must flawlessly perform, the demands placed on both platforms and networks are enormous.
Thus far, it appears the private sector is proceeding at a much faster clip in terms of placing the right tools at the disposal of customers so that they can stay on track, but what exactly will result when dozens of back-up networks kick in simultaneously remains a mystery. Will contracts and protocols hold firm so that any unresolved issues surrounding coordination, prioritization and timely access to adequate capacity are not transformed into instant bottlenecks at a national level when the next big emergency happens? That is one of the big questions.
"I totally agree. I believe the space segment and 'hub' earth station resources must be either fully dedicated or available on demand to properly support first responder and disaster relief communications. These resources cannot be shared with public or commercial users unless an automatic prioritization capability is provided," says Consultant John Whetstone, president of JW Communications in Ellsworth, ME.
Whetstone recently designed a system for The American Red Cross involving a combination of flyaways and vehicular systems, including AVL MVSAT 1.2-meter antennas mounted on nine Ford Excursions. All of the remotes feature a boom-mounted Advantech 4-watt SSPA for up to 512 kbs back to a 3.8-meter antenna at Red Cross headquarters.
"At the very large level--big OC-3 and above type circuits--terrestrial infrastructure is required, and with these terrestrial-only solutions, last mile and single point of failure, Points of Presence will most certainly be a factor in a big emergency," says Jeff Gross, general manager of CA-based Immeon Network LLC.
"This, of course, is why satellite technology is so important, at least for rates of T3 and below with today's Ku-band systems. Satellite coverage is ubiquitous, the bandwidth is instantly available and it can be directed/redirected without any last mile issues," Gross adds. "By offering network restoration for circuits at T1/E1 type rates and below, we eliminate the bottleneck issue and provide a critical service to our BCS customers."
Beyond The SNG Model
The similarities between disaster recovery services, BCS and satellite newsgathering (SNG) are well known. Each taps occasional use capacity with an emphasis on rapid activation more often than not in less than ideal circumstances.
"BCS is more about true network connectivity, while with SNG, you have a capability that can be deployed very quickly, has great standards-based IP networking capabilities, and utilizes proven technology," says Gross. "SNG truck operators have very big video pipes, albeit asymmetric, and they are increasingly utilizing non-real time digital communications, along with enhanced video capabilities, to improve the product they generate. At the same time, they are lowering their costs."
While satellite bandwidth costs more than terrestrial bandwidth in most instances, Immeon is driving the cost down to make the monthly fee for BCS more affordable. Having a cost-effective solution with completely diverse connectivity is certainly a very attractive alternative to a total meltdown of a corporate or governmental network. Bandwidth on demand is a necessary ingredient here, when it comes to reviving large multipoint networks quickly and reducing overhead. "This is the key concept. You have the bandwidth you need when you need it, and you only pay for what you use," says Gross.
Bandwidth on demand is a necessary ingredient here, when it comes to reviving large multipoint networks quickly and reducing overhead. "This is the key concept. You have the bandwidth you need when you need it, and you only pay for what you use," says Gross.
Immeon offers diversity-routed connectivity in either a full mesh or a hub and spoke configuration. Viasat's Starwire Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) VSAT solution is used for full mesh links between all sites, while Linkstar with return channel rates up to 1 Mbs is used for hub and spoke systems.
"With Linkstar, we give the customer the choice of operating a virtual private network over the Internet, or operating over dedicated terrestrial circuits into our hub where Immeon hosts their dedicated router," says Gross. "Most of our Linkstar BCS customers are taking advantage of this dedicated router offering along with a dedicated line to our hub.
"With Starwire's full mesh solution, the customer can bring the traffic directly from their remote sites to their central site using their own mini-hub. This is cost effective and eliminates the need for any terrestrial component," adds Gross.
Service level agreements and a Committed Information Rate (CIR) are parts of the overall package in a symmetric configuration. "A low-rate return channel without CIR will not do the job here in most instances," says Gross.
In terms of disaster recovery simulations, adequate testing of the specific applications that are most critical to customers will reveal if the applications will operate as advertised during an actual disaster.
"It will also expose any router configuration issues," says Gross. "Since every customer has unique network requirements, there are things you have to watch out for. This includes the effects of software upgrades and corporate network configuration changes, which may occur from time to time. Testing on a regular basis makes sure these issues do not adversely impact you at a critical time."