Business Continuity and networking resilience

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Problematic events happen and organisations need to be able to cope when things go wrong. Business resilience has always required organisations to consider many diverse elements – premises, people, suppliers, equipment and tools. However, IT has become such an important component of almost every business process that it merits special attention. Where once the primary focus was data backup or keeping systems running in the event of component failure, attention has now shifted to networks.

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The internet changed everything

Organisations are geographically distributed; they are directly connected to their supply chain and customers; some of their IT is in the cloud and their employees are mobile and remote. In the not too distant future, organisations will also be connected to a myriad of tiny things. The data harvested from this Internet of Things will directly affect operations and processes.

Connectivity is no longer simply useful, it is integral to the working and personal lives of individuals. It enables the flow of data that is the lifeblood of all business processes. Continuous connectivity is assumed, so what happens to the business when networks fail?

That depends on the business and its processes, just as much as the technology used to help them keep running. The first thing any organisation should do is an assessment of where and how much they depend on connectivity. Then they can assess what technology and resilience is required to lessen the impact of any outage. There are several dimensions to this assessment as it is not simply a binary on/off as the cost of adding capacity to deliver higher resilience levels can increase rapidly.

Assessing resilience need

Firstly, which business processes *really* depend on connectivity? (hint: it’s not typically email, there are others that will be more pressing) How long can these processes cope without connection? How quickly do you need to know there is an issue?

Typically, the issues will be addressed automatically by some level of failover, but complete redundancy will be expensive and for most it is an unwelcome cost. So, what is required to ‘get by’? How much capacity is required? What is the business cost of disruption vs cost of recovery?

These can be assessed for most business processes, and then the resilient capacity required for the organisation can be determined by ranking important applications by their level of reliance on the network on the following basis:

  • Critical – i.e. what is required to remain in operation minute by minute, applications where a lack of network would immediately halt sales or manufacturing.
  • Essential – these are the things that can be limited or even curtailed for a short while, but are too important in the long term e.g. payroll and accounts
  • Necessary – applications that support productive or efficient operation – many elements of communication between individuals may fall into this category.
  • Desirable – things that will not be missed in short term. The lines between fairly useful and more important information is blurring, but for much of the bulk of IT data communication, organisations should be able to cope with less network capacity and usage for a while when something goes wrong.

Based on this understanding of the needs, network resilience can be planned to pragmatically meet the requirements for business continuity by making smart use of all available wide area network resources. The technology to do this increasingly comes from smart routing and networking equipment that can provide failover for wide area networks. This requires systems that can intelligently combine multiple forms of connectivity, do this seamlessly (bonding) and securely.

The role of SDWAN

This technology is present in software Defined Wide Area Networks (SDWAN) solutions with intelligent failover from companies such as Cradlepoint, Peplink, Opengear and others. These tackle this challenge by exploiting cellular-based backup connectivity for resilience and Out-of-Band Management (OOBM). This is typically administered centrally in the cloud, with the bonding together of multiple different network bearers to build capacity.

A resilient organisation needs to apply some level of failover to cope with the inevitable network problems that will occur. With no expense spared, the solution for resilience is multiple independent, redundant and equivalent connections. In practice this can prove to be an expensive route even when done intelligently. However, if the investment is too low, the curtailment of critical networked processes will severely impact the business.

Smarter routing, bonding and SDWAN are creating new opportunities to address business continuity and network resilience in a more cost effective way than ever before. Organisations need to get on with assessing the impact of losing connectivity of critical business processes. Then they can ensure they have put something in place to mitigate any loss, before they really need it.

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