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BCDR Basics for Agents

By Adam Myers, TeleSource Communications Inc.

Recommending backup links in case of a network outage is a sound strategy, but if that’s the extent of your business continuity/disaster recovery advice for business customers, you are missing critical solutions and revenue opportunities.

In my experience living and working in Houston, aka “the eye of the storm,” I have found that network outages are not enemy No. 1. That honor goes to commercial power loss.

When your customers don’t have power, there’s a high likelihood their communications are stopped in their tracks. That is unless you help them prepare for that situation.

Here are a few solutions that my agency has implemented for clients (and our own company) over the years to weather unexpected storms.

Hosted IP PBX. Hosted IP telephony is touted for its low entry costs, manageability and ability to support distributed workforces. But it’s also a great BC/DR solution. During Hurricane Ike last fall, many of my customers wanted to know why our phone service was still working when their premise-based PBX (or IP PBX) with PRIs was not. “It’s hosted,” I told them, so the system is not located in the affected area and calls are redirected to alternate numbers — in my case, my cell phone, which was still operational, but it could have been anywhere service was unaffected. In addition, as long as there is Internet access — I used a wireless modem during Ike — you can manage and reroute calls as needed.

Of course, you can set up a disaster routing service on PRIs in a traditional setup; however, it’s not intelligent — you are routing specific lines to predetermined destinations, which can’t be altered on the fly. During a disaster situation, the flexibility afforded by a Web-based management system is paramount.

At TeleSource, we use a hosted IP PBX service from Covad, but there are many effective solutions on the market. The upside for the agent is monthly residuals on access (e.g., T1) and the hosted seats.

Wireless Access/Phones. As I noted, wireless modems and phones remained operational during Hurricane Ike, enabling my company to stay in business by rerouting calls to our office to our wireless devices. This is not always the case in every disaster situation, but it often is, since the wireless network usually is separate from the wireline one. And, we have found that even when the mobile voice network is compromised, the data network is working as data traffic requires less bandwidth than voice calls.

Still, it’s advisable to have service plans with multiple carriers in case power loss impacts your primary operator’s network. (And, don’t forget to recommend customers buy extra batteries for mobile devices and have them charged beforehand. If the power is out, cell phones and laptops won’t last if repairs take several days as they did with Ike.)

So, wireless service, while enabling mobility during the normal course of business, also can be part of a business continuity plan. And, when combined with hosted VoIP, it can keep your clients up and running when others are not. Besides having a happy customer, agents also earn commissions on activations and, depending on the provider, residuals on usage.

Data Center. Putting customer servers running critical applications — e-mail, CRM, ERP, etc. — in a remote data center as another node on their WAN can insulate clients from power loss at a primary host site. They can access their applications from any location with power (or wirelessly with battery-powered devices as discussed). While it’s possible and advisable to seek geographic diversity (e.g., a data center outside the customer’s area), even a local data center is more disaster-proof than keeping the servers at the customer premises. That’s because most data centers employ backup power mechanisms, such as batteries, generators (including pre-negotiated contracts for fuel and refueling of systems), that go beyond what most commercial buildings have in place. One caution: Not all data centers are created equally, so make sure you are familiar with their BC/DR plans.

While most medium and large customers already use remote data centers, it’s still worth the discussion. You’ll often find that not all of their systems are housed remotely, or they are in need of an upgrade in gear and connectivity.

Since the cost of getting into a data center has gone down in recent years due to the proliferation of data center buildouts and more efficient hardware utilization (e.g., virtualization), even smaller customers can afford to make the switch. In addition, the lower cost enables customers to put servers in multiple diverse data centers for mirrored sites or other diversity goals.

Sometimes customers will argue that their “remote” location is part of their backup strategy. It’s better than nothing, but the reality is that most remote locations are not really set up to handle the volume of voice/data traffic that the total business supports. A data center, with big pipes, multicarrier connectivity, diverse entrance and redundant power is a much better option.

As an agent, you can get compensated for your professional services (installing gear) and residuals on the real estate (e.g. cabinets, cages, racks) and connectivity.

Emergency Notification.Another way to help customers is to set up a hotline for employees to call in the event of an emergency. We use Qwest’s IVR service, Easy Route, which is hosted remotely, again insulating the service from the local disaster. This is not a huge moneymaker since the residual is usage-based, but it fosters goodwill with the client and is part of a total BC/DR solution.

Most of the ideas presented here may sound like common sense, and they are, but so often companies don’t implement even the most basic of contingency plans. If you help them with good BC/DR advice, you get C-level visibility before and during events and are most likely to be the one they call when they need more communications services later.

Adam Myers is president of TeleSource Communications Inc., an agency based in Houston. He has survived six hurricanes in the last five years without losing communications service. He can be reached — rain or shine — at [email protected].


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