POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 15, 2010
The Internet has become so pervasive in many businesses and government organizations that folks need ways to ensure 24/7 connectivity. A popular way to facilitate such a connection is with a secondary, or backup, connection from someone other than the primary provider. But what many fail to overlook is that Internet service providers often share, resell or co-market their facilities such that those that aren't careful are paying for redundancy but not actually achieving it.
For example, consider the case of a Bishop Street company with its Internet access provided by a large, multinational corporation that we'll call "A." While "A" provides a single point of contact for contracting, billing and technical support, "A" also uses a local telephone company to provide the connection from Bishop Street to "A's" facilities, which could be anywhere on Oahu. "A" does not control these lines; it simply pays for using them, like any other customer would.
Now say this Bishop Streeter decides to acquire a second connection to ensure that it is always connected. It decides on another large provider, "S." "S" has an excellent reputation. But guess what: "S" contracts the same local telephone carrier to provide the connection from downtown to Pearl City, where "S" houses its facilities.
What we've created here is a single point of failure, namely the local telephone company. We're certainly not suggesting that the local telephone carrier (of which there is more than one in Honolulu) is more susceptible to failure than anyone else. The point, however, of getting a second connection is to ensure redundancy. There is some redundancy in this scenario, but it is not complete. The so-called "last mile" is being provided by the same provider. If by chance that provider experiences any problems, both of our Internet connections are going down.
What can be done to prevent this situation? All you need to do is ask. Ask your provider to identify all of the links between your office and a facility that is actually controlled by said provider. Reputable ISPs will readily identify whose circuits they use, at least on-island. It might take some persistence on your part, but this information should not be a secret. In fact, you can make this a criterion when selecting a backup provider. Insist upon a separate provider for the last mile than your primary circuit.
In light of the recent outage that affected many organizations in Hawaii, folks would be well advised to ensure complete redundancy for their critical telecommunication connections. One final caveat: Buying a second circuit could require a reasonable amount of engineering within your own network. Be prepared to pay your ISP or an independent consultant to perform this work.