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Factoring VoIP into your disaster recovery plan

Paul Kirvan, independent disaster recovery and business continuity expert, answers some commonly asked questions about disaster recovery and VoIP in this Q&A.

Voice over IP (VoIP) has been adopted by many organizations for its operational benefits, but what do you need to consider about VoIP from a disaster recovery (DR) standpoint? Paul Kirvan, independent disaster recovery and business continuity expert, answers some commonly asked questions about disaster recovery and VoIP in this Q&A. His answers are also available as an MP3 below.

Listen to the VoIP disaster recovery FAQ

Table of contents:

>> Why do businesses use VoIP today?
>> How can VoIP be used as part of a DR strategy?
>> What are the pros and cons of hosted VoIP vs. in house?
>> Are there benefits to using a consumer service like Skype?
>> What do you need to consider for VoIP disaster recovery?

Some potential reasons cited for using VoIP phones include cost savings and productivity gains. Can you outline some of the reasons businesses use VoIP today?

Instead of a separate operating environment, with VoIP technology voice communications can now be another IT application. Most VoIP systems do not require floor space-consuming cabinets; they are simply additional servers and network interface devices occupying a standard 19-inch rack.

Most VoIP systems provide all of the traditional PBS-based features. Something that's especially useful is the ability to disconnect a phone and plug it in somewhere else. Then, the phone can automatically re-establish itself in the system and reconnect to the main server. This could save phone installation expenses associated with internal and external moves.

How can VoIP be used as part of your disaster recovery strategy?

One way would be for employees to disconnect their VoIP phones as they were leaving a building and reinstalling them at an alternate site. You'd have to make sure that any designated alternate work area has Internet access.

Now of course this strategy may not be practical, especially if time is of the essence during an evacuation, and employees need to quickly leave the building.

Assuming the VoIP system hasn't been damaged it should be possible to use a standard Web interface, remotely access the VoIP system and reconfigure employees at the new location. This of course would mean that a supply of VoIP phones was available at the alternate work area.

What are the pros and cons of using a hosted VoIP service vs. an in-house product?

There are several benefits of using a hosted VoIP service: 1) little or no floor space required, as the provider's site houses servers and other network equipment; 2) minimal overhead is required for equipment, as all you need are Internet access and station equipment; 3) low startup cost to launch the service, usually an installation charge plus monthly fees; 4) equipment is in a secure location offsite, so it's protected from any disaster affecting your site.

Some drawbacks include: 1) you are leasing the equipment, so you cannot depreciate it because it's not a capital investment; 2) there can be a perceived loss of control in managing telecom activities. However, the reality is that vendors in this space are generally accommodating of users managing as much or as little of their operations as they want.

How about consumer services like Skype – do see any possible benefits there?

So long as Internet access is available, Skype could be a cost-effective part of a business continuity (BC)/DR plan. The technology is proven, the cost is very low, and start-up is easy. It's all a matter of building Skype, VoIP and other technologies into BC/DR plans and periodically testing the arrangements to ensure they work. Testing should be conducted quarterly or at the very least twice a year.

Also, place a strong emphasis on security because you are connected to the Internet. It's possible, if you don't have the proper security provisions in place, you could have unauthorized access in your system.

On the flip side, what do you need to consider for VoIP disaster recovery? How can you ensure it will be available after a disaster?

If your organization depends on voice communications, a VoIP system makes good sense, but you must be sure to protect that investment. Assuming you have a premises-based VoIP system, as do most users, the same strategies used to back up and recover data systems and networks should be used for VoIP. Ensure that any databases in the system can be replicated at the manufacturer and/or distributor's offices to ensure timely recovery. Identify primary and backup sources of station equipment, routers, cabling, servers and other relevant components.

Virtually all VoIP system manufacturers and most distributors have disaster recovery programs to deal with disasters. Take advantage of them. Also, look into adding third-party firms that specialize in backup/recovery of voice communications systems, such as VoiceGard, to your DR plans.


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