The human race is entering a season of danger. The impact of a warming climate has begun to manifest itself in the form of stronger and more damaging weather events — storms, floods, tornadoes, and more. Hurricane Harvey recently passed over Texas, and Hurricane Irma will have completed it's touchdown on Florida by the time this article is published.
In the middle of all of this devastation, emergency communications are what hold us together. First responders, hurricane survivors, and worried family members all rely on intact communication networks to coordinate the response to any major natural disaster. In other words, VoIP service providers have a responsibility to ensure that that their systems are hardened in the face of Nature's wrath.
Protecting the Data Center against Fire, Flood, and More
A hurricane represents a multifaceted threat environment for a communications service provider. High winds will strip away power lines, high waters can flood your data center, and you may even need to worry about fires caused by damaged fuel and gas lines. Providers in hurricane prone-areas also can't assume that they'll have plenty of warning in advance. Hurricane Harvey, for example, strengthened from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 4 in less than 24 hours.
In other words, the days immediately before a natural disaster are far, far too late to prepare for one. Most service providers need to prepare years before disaster strikes. Verizon Communications, for example, has taken elaborate precautions, including:
- A network of hardened "super switches," enclosed in sloped reinforced concrete designed to repel high winds.
- Dual separate fiber entrances at every site, for redundancy in case of damage.
- Backup generators and HVAC, capable of running on both batteries and fuel.
Verizon also has a variety of emergency repair services, including trucks capable of serving as mobile cell towers, generators, and repeaters. While smaller service providers may not be able to muster quite the same level of repair services, physically hardening your data centers and connections and arming them with redundant systems is an absolute must in disaster-prone areas.
Don't Just Survive a Hurricane — Help Your Users
Information is the first line of defense in any natural disaster. During a hurricane, your customers may still want to know if there's a service outage, when they might expect communications to return, how to troubleshoot their connection, and so on. As such, you might experience a surge of traffic to your webpage during a time when critical functions of the internet are already stressed by extreme weather. How will you keep your knowledgebase accessible to the public?
During Hurricane Harvey, one website — known as Space City Weather — watched its view count spike from 10,000 views a day to over one million. Individuals, including first responders, relied on the site to make literal life-or-death decisions during the storm. While your site may not receive as much traffic during a natural disaster scenario, here's the best way to respond if you find your view count spiking.
- Simplify your site: One of the reasons that Space City Weather stood up to hurricane traffic was that it used a relatively pared-down site. With fewer resources, it stood a better chance of loading under the pressure of millions of readers. It's worth considering making a lightweight version of your page if you expect increased traffic during an emergency. In fact, several New York media sites used this contingency during Hurricane Sandy.
- Assuming your site runs on a single server, Space City Weather recommends a hardware server, a gigabit uplink, a cache well-supplied with memory, and a good CDN.
- Create a server stack that allows you to cache encrypted traffic — Space City Weather solved this problem by performing encryption before caching.
- Using a caching application like Varnish or Nginx lets administrators obviate the problem of serving dynamically generated content to an unusually large number of users.
Communications service providers can measurably contribute to hurricane survival and disaster relief by hardening both physical infrastructure and their web presence. Making sure that your customers can still communicate and share information during an emergency literally represents a lifeline — so invest in preparedness now.
Harden Your Infrastructure and Web Presence with Edgewater Networks
With tools to monitor both your web presence and your customer networks, Edgewater Networks provides the perfect solution for companies invested in disaster recovery. Features like WAN failover ensure that your customers have redundant connectivity in case of an emergency, while call shaping and traffic monitoring ensure that your customers get clear sound and low latency, regardless of outside conditions. For more information on how Edgewater Networks can complement your security and disaster preparedness efforts, contact us today.