When a huge fire broke out four blocks from DVFG Advisors' Conshohocken, Pa., offices in August, the company was spared the costly telephone and Web access downtime other nearby businesses experienced.
"When I saw the news about the fire, I logged in and everything was OK," says Bo Breneman, vice president of technology. "We never lost connectivity, but other businesses in the area had to send (employees) home because they didn't have a working phone system."
The financial services firm uses a telephony service from Philadelphia-based Evolve IP that's hosted at a remote location. Evolve IP offers both hosted and managed solutions for phone, Internet and related services.
The failure of a single circuit can send a company scrambling to restore its phone lines, says principal and CEO Cameron Niles of Syzygy 3, a full-service IT integration and consulting company based in New York.
"The people in the financial services get it," Niles says of the importance of telecommunications infrastructure. "To them, reliability is paramount to staying in business." Hedge funds and private equity firms, for example, live and die by the perception of reliability they project, and non-working phone lines can send the wrong message.
For any company that wants to include telephony in its overall disaster recovery plan, Niles suggests determining where failures likely will occur and whether inbound or outbound calls are more important. A call center or fulfillment center will place importance on inbound service, while sales offices will prioritize outbound calling. For inbound service, multiple carriers are key. Telephone service providers also can redirect calls to another location or to cell phones. More companies are keeping a few POTS (plain old telephone service) lines around for use in an emergency. Most office buildings still have these lines, and key officials can keep a low-tech handset around and field calls, if necessary. For companies with multiple locations or a dedicated DR site, calls can be routed there.
"If a company has a data connection between sites via IP, then phone traffic can be routed between them, too," Niles says. "Calls can be ported via PBX between sites, and voice becomes one more application."
An increasingly attractive option for companies is hosted IP telephony, where the vendor owns the circuit and the data pathways. "A good provider spends millions on redundancy," Niles says. "The key advantage, especially for inbound calls, is that even if someone cuts circuits, inbound calls still will hit an auto attendant, voicemail or be redirected."
VoIP telephone infrastructure has mobility built in, which becomes critical in DR applications, says Joseph Pedano, vice president of data engineering for Evolve IP, Philadelphia. Pedano advises companies to research DR capabilities of any telecommunications as a matter of course, knowing first what the company's requirements are in terms of business continuation. "People take for granted what's in the office so they can continue the business," Pedano says.
Re/Max Alliance in Denver knew it had an aging legacy PBX system, but it never imagined the system would crash after backup batteries failed during a power outage in August.
"The whole system just frogged up and was down and out," says Doug Emmerich, vice president of the top-producing real estate firm. The Re/Max office recently had moved to Unity Business Networks for Internet access and been moving phone service to the company in seven of its 21 offices. During the immediate crisis, inbound calls were sent to other locations while Unity brought three T1 phone lines into the building, which brings robust reliability.
"If you suspect you have a troublesome system, you have a problem," Emmerich says. "A single-source provider like Unity provides one-call service for any of our voice concerns. Before, we had three or four providers, which could be perplexing when something went wrong because we didn't know who to call."
Matt Bolch is a frequent contributor to SearchDisasterRecovery.com.