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Feature Article
February 2004

Leveraging IP Telephony For Disaster Recovery


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 �always be there.� 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 business�s 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 Recording Servers.

Communication Diversity
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 vendor�s network, redundancy or failover may be available through a second vendor�s facilities. IP telephony can be a key component in diversifying a business�s telecommunication infrastructure. It provides alternative endpoints, trunk facilities, and vendor facilities.

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 �hot site� (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 business�s 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 would not.

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 to:

� Provide real-time sharing of the configuration data of the PBX server with a redundant server.
� Preserve calls when server failover occurs.
� 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 business operations.

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 �Shuffling� or �Null Capability Exchange.�

Emergency Notification
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 �reverse 911� 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 �all circuits are busy now� 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.

IP Centrex
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 business�s 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 business� 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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