How to Weather the Storm with the Cloud

Unified Communications and Business Continuity

Extreme weather events seem to be the norm these days rather than the exception. Almost every corner of the country has experienced it – whether it’s a powerful hurricane that causes widespread flooding, a wildfire that burns up thousands of acres, or a blizzard that dumps snow that’s measurable in feet. And every time it happens, local businesses are hit hard with lost wages and reduced profits.

This is just one reason why businesses like yours have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place, or are at least considering implementing them. At its core, the purpose of a business continuity plan is to prevent the interruption of your normal business operations. In the event that an interruption does occur, the plan should ensure that your organization has alternate methods for continuing operations until normal functionality is restored.

Straight “out of the box,” hosted unified communications (UC) addresses both of these aspects of business continuity. Because the service provider takes care of things like server redundancy, geographic diversity, and data backups, your business is in a better position to continue working until normal operations are restored. Also, due to the distributed nature of a cloud-based service, many of the issues that would affect an on-premises system have zero impact.

However, like any other system in your organization, even hosted UC is not completely immune to damage or disruption. If disruptions do happen, they generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Local event – A disruption affecting a particular business location, such as severe weather, a disaster, or a security breach
  • Interrupted connection – A power outage or disruption to network connectivity
  • Network issue – A disruption to the service provider’s network (this is rare)

Let’s look at these three types of events in detail, and consider the steps you can take to prepare for them.

Preparing for a Local Event

Inevitably, there will come a day that your office will become inaccessible. With hosted UC, there are many steps you can take to proactively prepare.

  • Configure all users with options and features that will allow them to work remotely if needed. This is where hosted UC really shines! Employees can easily work from home when they have softphones and mobile apps at their disposal.
  • Enable and pre-configure group features that will allow local operations to continue or be redirected to an alternate location. For example, auto attendant menus can be updated on-the-fly to play a pre-recorded “office closed” greeting. If your company has multiple locations, you could ask someone at another location to serve as a backup receptionist – since everything is in the cloud, that person will be able to manage all inbound calls remotely.
  • Ensure at least two people are set up with admin-level access to the system’s web portal, in case your primary admin is unable to log in.
  • For rental equipment: Confirm that your service provider can provide a replacement in the event that a device fails.
  • For purchased equipment: Ensure that you have spares on hand for all devices such as phones, firewalls, routers, and switches.

Also, be sure you have the details of your service provider’s warranty program so you’ll know what to do in case any of these devices are damaged. To avoid the possibility of having to pay out-of-pocket to replace damaged equipment, you could go for guaranteed replacement (where the provider will replace the equipment regardless of how the damage was caused), or you could choose to purchase insurance to cover non-warrantied repairs and replacements.

Preparing for an Interrupted Connection

The second type of disruption is the interrupted connection – meaning a power outage or disruption to network connectivity.

To address a power outage, ensure you have a backup power source (such as a UPS or a generator) available for your firewall, routers, and switches. Remember that even if these backups eventually run out and cause your devices to lose power, a hosted UC system’s features will either continue to work as programmed or automatically fail over to an alternate setting.

To address network connectivity, install at least one redundant connection to be used as a failover if the primary network connection is interrupted. For true network diversity, you could even install a 4G LTE connection as the failover, reducing your reliance on the wired connections into your building. You can also consider implementing SD-WAN to manage these failover options automatically.

When the UC system fails over to a backup connection, the IP connection switches to its backup and all lines re-register with the alternate ISP’s IP addresses; all voice traffic is then routed through that ISP and across the Internet to the hosted provider. When the primary connection is back online, the lines re-register directly to the hosted provider and normal operation is restored.

To cover yourself in either a power outage or a network connectivity loss, enable voice failover features that will allow operations to continue if the service is not available. For example, call forwarding not reachable will forward inbound calls to backup phone lines, another location, or users’ cell phones in the event that a location cannot connect to the hosted service.

Preparing for a Network Issue

Finally, it is possible there could be problems with the provider’s network. However, this type of problem is quite rare.  Any hosted provider worth their while (like TPx!) will be working on robust infrastructure with multiple layers of security and redundancy built in. Usually, if there are any problems, they occur in the “last mile” of connectivity.

The best thing you can do to prepare here is to follow all of the steps we’ve previously talked about. Most notably, you should enable features that will allow operations to continue if standard voice service is not available, such as auto attendants, call forwarding not available, and hosted voicemail.

If you are using PRI or SIP trunks, you can also enable Direct Trunk Overflow (DTO) or Trunk Group Call Forwarding. These services automatically redirect incoming calls to an alternate number if there is a service impairment or if all trunk channels are busy. Enterprise Trunking is another alternative that supports multiple inbound routing options if you have multiple locations.

 

In the end, the best thing you can do for your business is to prepare as much as you can. It’s not enough to just be aware of the potential for a problem. By proactively developing and implementing plans to manage those potential interruptions wherever they may occur, you’ll further ensure that your hosted UC service continues to function when your business needs it most.

My wish for you is that you’ll never have to actually use your business continuity plans.

 

About the Author

Stacey Kendall is a Product Marketing Manager at TPx Communications. Her role is focused on marketing for TPx’s suite of Communications & Collaboration offerings, including the UCx Hosted Unified Communications Service and SmartVoice SIP Trunking. Stacey holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a specialization in Information Technology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She resides in the greater Boston area.