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What should be included in a VoIP disaster recovery plan?

Keith Erwood outlines what you need to consider when putting together a VoIP disaster recovery plan and details the pros and cons of managed VoIP and in-house VoIP from a disaster recovery standpoint.

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What should be included in a VoIP disaster recovery plan?
Ensuring that your telecommunications are up and running after a disaster is an important part of any good business continuity and disaster recovery plan. Unfortunately, any technology is subject to failure even during normal times and the same holds true when it comes to Voice over IP (VoIP).

The main trick in putting an effective VoIP disaster recovery solution in place is to find the balance between what you can afford, how necessary telecommunications is to your company, and if the loss of your telecommunications results in a loss of revenue. Some businesses can use other alternatives without too big of an impact, but most businesses couldn't survive without their telecommunication systems for long.

First, we can basically break down VoIP disaster recovery into two groups. Each group has its own set of recovery needs and concerns. The two groups are a hosted and/or managed VoIP services, and an on-premise service.

Most hosted VoIP services have robust disaster recovery plans and service-level agreements (SLAs) in place that should be adequate for most business needs. However, you should be able to conduct your own analysis of your service provider's VoIP disaster recovery plan. Any reputable provider should be able to give you documentation about their disaster recovery planning, and how they intend to ensure your VoIP uptime and availability of these services during a disaster. Another thing you will want to do is incorporate your VoIP service provider into your disaster recovery testing, look for gaps and short falls and work with your service provider to fix any issues.

When you review your SLA with your service provider or conduct disaster recovery testing, you want to ensure that they can provide these services within your recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) requirements. Again, most providers will be able to handle your needs, you will just need to know what those needs are and convey them clearly, and in writing to your provider.

If you have an on-premise VoIP system you will need to back up the database(s) associated with your system, including contacts, inbound and outbound voicemail messages, and in-house call numbers, along with any other information necessary to restore the system. It is considered a best practice to have system configurations, contacts and in-house call numbers kept in a hard-copy format that is frequently updated. You will also have to implement a disaster recovery solution to procure additional software and hardware such as servers, routers, cables, additional phones and circuits, either immediately following an event or set up an additional solution at an off-site location ahead of time. The best method to ensuring that you can recover quickly is to have an alternate disaster recovery site with everything ready to go should a disaster occur. Several vendors also offer database synchronization or a backup of your database.

Another option to help ensure your telecom system is operational after a disaster would be to take advantage of collocation services. These type of setups make sense for larger businesses with multiple locations and allow a company to centralize their systems and connect from anywhere in the world. For added redundancy, you should consider having circuits in place from more than one carrier. Though both carriers may be impacted by a regional disaster, during normal times it is unlikely that both carriers would have a simultaneous outage, giving you added protection from a carrier-based outage.

Monitor your telecommunications systems either internally or, depending on your budget, hire a monitoring service to notify you of outages and other issues. If you have redundancy in place, you might also have them provide a seamless failover during such outages.

This was first published in September 2010

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