Leveraging IP Telephony For Disaster
BY CATHERINE McNAIR
There is little doubt that IP telephony provides business applications
that improve operations and return on investment (ROI). These applications
have been beneficial to both small and large businesses and we hear about
them often in technical publications and day-to-day operations. What often
goes unnoticed, however, is that IP telephony can improve business
operations through enhancements in Disaster Recovery planning.
Consequently, it does not matter whether you are in the process of
deciding if IP telephony is a sound investment for your business or trying
to develop Disaster Recovery plans, understanding how IP telephony can be
leveraged to improve Disaster Recovery is important.
Before this is discussed, however, it is helpful to understand how
telecommunications is viewed in Disaster Recovery planning.
Telecommunications is, traditionally, a constant and reliable
infrastructure. Most of the technology is mature and has fostered a sense
of security that it will ï¿½always be there.ï¿½ Because of this, Disaster
Recovery planning has not been focused on in telecommunications
departments as much as it has in IT departments. However, businesses are
now beginning to take a closer look at Disaster Recovery planning for
their telecommunications infrastructure, and seeing it as every bit as
important and in need of protection as the IT infrastructure in order to
maintain business operations. Recent disastrous events have underscored
the fact that the telecommunications networks and systems in our country
are not infallible; business-owned equipment is often dependent on local
power and entire offices can be without telephone service if an area is
damaged by fire or a terrorist act. In addition, converging technologies
and IP telephony are encouraging the combined efforts of
telecommunications and IT departments, bringing an increased focus on
telecommunications as a critical function during a disaster and one that
must be protected. All of these factors have increased attention on
telecommunications in Disaster Recovery to not only protect that
infrastructure, but also to use that infrastructure to improve the
businessï¿½s Disaster Recovery plans and processes.
IP telephony offers several features and services that provide diverse and
redundant communications, which reduce single points of failure for
telecommunications infrastructure. IP telephony also can enhance emergency
response capabilities -- enabling quick and effective communications
at a time when it is badly needed. These features and services are in the
areas of Communication Diversity, Mobility, Server Redundancy and
Failover, Alternate Gateways and Gatekeepers, Voice Stream Rerouting,
Emergency Notification, Mobile Communications Systems, IP Centrex and Call
The purpose of communication diversity is to eliminate single points of
failure by providing several alternative methods of communicating.
Examples of diversity include combining several types of devices, such as
IP telephones, softphone applications on Personal Digital Assistants
(PDA), and standard or digital telephones. Another example would be
combining PSTN trunks and IP telephony trunks. Diversity can also mean
providing service through more than one vendor; in the event that there is
a failure on one vendorï¿½s network, redundancy or failover may be
available through a second vendorï¿½s facilities. IP telephony can be a
key component in diversifying a businessï¿½s telecommunication
infrastructure. It provides alternative endpoints, trunk facilities, and
IP telephony provides mobility for users and allows users to work anywhere
they are able to access a corporate intranet. Users can work at home, at a
ï¿½hot siteï¿½ (a location designated as a backup facility in the event of
a disaster), an alternate company site, or a temporary operation at a
hotel. This mobility that IP telephony provides is further enhanced by
wireless LAN/WAN access, the ability to use alternate gateways and
gatekeepers, and the ability to put a softphone application on a PDA. This
mobility is a key benefit that can make a big difference in a businessï¿½s
ability to respond to a disaster and recover more quickly. For instance,
consider a location that becomes uninhabitable while infrastructure
systems are still operating. The ability to enable employees to work at
home can mean that the business continues operating when it otherwise
PBX Server Redundancy and Failover
PBX servers that provide redundancy and failover capability are important
components of Disaster Recovery plans. Essential features are the ability
ï¿½ Provide real-time sharing of the configuration data of the PBX server
with a redundant server.
ï¿½ Preserve calls when server failover occurs.
ï¿½ Physically separate the redundant servers.
The concept of equipment redundancy can be extended to voice mail, IVR,
CTI, or other telephony applications that are considered critical to
Alternate Gateways and Gatekeepers
The use of alternate gateways and gatekeepers provides redundancy if the
primary device is unavailable. This may also be referred to as load
distribution or load balancing. At first, the benefit identified is being
able to distribute call traffic across several gateways and gatekeepers to
share the load. This reduces the impact if an equipment failure occurs. If
an IP endpoint is set up with multiple gateways and gatekeepers (a primary
and one or more alternates), however, these alternates can also allow for
an automatic method of recovering call processing capability. With this
feature, if a gateway or gatekeeper fails, an endpoint can register with
an alternate very quickly.
Voice Stream Rerouting
Some IP endpoints have the ability to reroute a voice stream to a direct
connection between endpoints thus eliminating the need to maintain the
connection through a gateway. This allows for the preservation of active
calls if a gateway fails since the transmission of the voice is not
dependent on the gateway being available. Voice stream rerouting is
sometimes referred to as ï¿½Shufflingï¿½ or ï¿½Null Capability
Emergency notification systems provide a fast, efficient method of
notifying large numbers of employees, customers, emergency responders
(fire, police), or others in the event of a disaster. Sometimes this is
referred to as a ï¿½reverse 911ï¿½ system. These systems may use home and
work numbers, cellular phone numbers, pagers, e-mail, or voice mail to
distribute an emergency message. IP telephony provides another method of
reaching people when other networks may be unavailable. For example,
during an emergency, callers may not be able to call into or out of a
region. Using traditional telephone circuits, the caller may receive an
ï¿½all circuits are busy nowï¿½ message. Similarly, a surge in cellular
traffic can prohibit users from completing mobile phone calls, as happened
recently during the blackout in the Northeastern United States. IP
telephony may allow calls to be completed when they otherwise would not.
Mobile Communication Solutions
The configuration of a mobile communications system may center on IP
telephony features. A system that is mobile -- for instance, set up in a
utility vehicle for first responders to use -- can provide a combination
of analog, digital, IP telephony, wireless, and satellite communications.
A common configuration of these systems is to enable them for IP
telephony, and connect them into an existing land-based system. The IP
telephony features allow for multiple IP endpoints to utilize the existing
land-based system for access to the PSTN. Such a system can provide call
capability virtually anywhere.
This solution provides call features to IP telephony endpoints and is
controlled at the local central office. In the event of an emergency,
since central offices provide generator power in case of regional power
outages, IP Centrex endpoints would remain available as long as they do
not require local power on the businessï¿½s premise (some IP Centrex
telephones do require local power).
Call Recording Servers
When call recording equipment has the capability to communicate over IP
there is an additional layer of protection in backup capability.
Recordings can be backed up to multiple locations. In addition, IP
connectivity may add the ability to hear recordings in real time, which
could be advantageous if threats or malicious calls are received.
IP telephony strengthens a businessï¿½ Disaster Recovery planning effort.
It allows an Enterprise business to gain additional options and more
flexibility when developing these plans. Taking advantage of the options
and flexibility that IP telephony brings makes it more likely that a
business can recover quickly and efficiently from a disaster with
continued operation and revenue.
Cathy McNair is a certified Associate Business Continuity Planner
(ABCP) and a Business Continuity Consultant with Avaya, Inc., with over 10
years of experience in architecting and implementing telecommunications
solutions for Enterprise businesses. Avaya is a global leader in
communication systems, applications, and services, and designs, builds,
deploys, and manages networks for enterprises. For more information,
please click here.
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2004 Table Of Contents ]