Article April 20, 2020
Business continuity is a great concern in times of disaster. Floods and earthquakes can overnight disrupt the lives of people. Businesses that were thriving before the disaster failed and came to liquidation as the restoration of connectivity took a long time.
When there is no business continuity, businesses tend to fail because they cannot carry out critical business functions. Disaster management/ recovery is dealing with the aftermath of catastrophic events. So, why is this topic relevant now? Because today we are dealing with a different kind of disaster that is shaking the earth. Something which we cannot see but is felt by the whole world. Coronavirus / COVID-19.
Both disaster recovery and business continuity have some overlapping issues. In the light of the new disaster that has stuck the humanity, it is necessary to see how we can preserve businesses in these tough times. With indefinite lockdowns announced in many countries, work from home seems to be the only way out. However, workers cannot be given the same resources and connectivity they get in office in their homes.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
First reported on 31st December 2019 as dangerous pneumonia of unknown source, within a month COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and pandemic on 30th January 2020 by WHO. Pandemics are diseases that can spread throughout the country or even the world. Our generation hasn’t seen a pandemic yet. We did see Ebola, Zika, and others. However, all of these were contained without much damage. The last outbreak comparable to COVID-19 was the Flu pandemic which swept the earth a century ago, killing more than 20 million.
Within 3 months of the first discovery of COVID-19, the world is at its knees. Countries have gone under complete lockdowns with nothing but essential supplies businesses allowed to function. Of course, we are better equipped to fight a pandemic today than we were a hundred years ago. But despite the lockdown to control the spread and shutting of businesses and borders, the spread of the virus is steadily increasing. In the meantime, as people are not ableto carry out critical business functions, they are collapsing. By the time the pandemic comes to an end, there will not be much to work with and many people will be forced to liquidate their business due to the loss of connectivity.
Ian Canning, TrustComm’s COO says the biggest frustration with disaster recovery or in this case fighting a pandemic is not knowing exactly what to plan for. When you do not know what you are up against, it is very difficult to be prepared for it. Even though we are in a digital world where almost everything can be done remotely, connectivity is still a concern. Offices have better connectivity and are highly equipped to tackle the kind of work they need. Today, though, as people are locked into their houses, everyone is turning to ‘work from home’ to keep the work going. Simultaneously, universities are striving to make their classes online to not disrupt education.
The connectivity in the homes is not good enough to tackle this situation. With more strain on the home internet connection than ever, the network speed has come down, making the work a painfully slow task. This is particularly hard on small and medium businesses. New connections through fiber optics cannot be laid at this time. So, the solution lies in the satellite connection i.e. VSAT.
Network Connectivity Issues
COVID-19 pandemic is similar to other natural disasters in one thing: it is hard to set up new connections to remedy the connectivity issues at the time of the disaster as people cannot freely move from one place to another even though now is exactly when people need this done. Ad hoc applications which are required as soon as possible doesn’t work well over a satellite link. The CTO at Spacenet, Aditya Chatterjee explained that “Therefore, it is tremendously helpful if you can integrate the satellite solution with the customer’s routers, switches, and other networking gear before a disaster occurs. Network designers should identify their most important applications up-front and then ensure they can also work over satellite.”
It has been noted that organizations are slow to use satellite technology during emergencies because of capital constraints. However, for situations like these, Vizocom has come up with a creative solution where it provides a turnkey satellite-based service through which they restore the network. It is called EZConnect, and it does not require the usual capital expenditure.
The satellite technology has great potential to support humanity in times of difficulties. A great example of its potential was seen during the 2011 earthquake that shook Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake ever experienced by the country and it snatched the lives of more than 15,000 people. The property damage was massive and network connectivity was completely disrupted. What came in handy to coordinate the emergency disaster recovery was the SKY Perfect JSAT’s satellite services. Around 200VSATs were installed at temporary housing shelters to provide internet connectivity. They even helped Japan’s wireless carriers to restore their networks by establishing satellite connections.
It cannot be clearer that satellites should be considered as a critical infrastructure than an alternative. It will provide stable networks at the time of disasters and pandemics alike and will ensure that people stay connected enough to get through the situation and reach for help whenever necessary.
Every business values business continuity. Satellite technology comes as the greatest tool for that. Dave Rehbehn, senior director of international marketing at Hughes says, “Terrestrial carriers may offer essential services, but they aren’t necessarily diverse. Satellite technology offers both essential and path diversity, thereby providing a very strong value proposition.”
Satellite technology has become a necessity in certain key industries like banking. People are extensively relying on banking services even for their everyday transactions. This makes it mandatory for them to be up and running no matter what. If the banking services crash (lose connectivity) for even a day or two, it will cause panic among people. It is the satellite technology that can ensure business continuity to such enterprises by providing uninterrupted network connectivity. The Basel II Banking Accord is an internationally recognized set of recommendations relating to the banking industry. It talks about how banks should address and mitigate risks by giving some regulations. The accord emphasizes on Information Technology (IT) and how it is essential to ensure that a bank’s customer always has access to his funds. If they cannot ensure that, people will lose trust in the banking system.
As cash usage is reducing drastically across the world, many governments are making it mandatory for banks to have satellite backup. Indonesia is an example of that. As debit cards, net banking and online wallets are becoming more common, businesses and retail stores are also forced to stay online. So, without connectivity and communication, even the business of retailers will come to a halt. While the initial cost might make people hesitant to use satellite technology, it offers great value that enterprises cannot afford to forgo. The real question that businesses have to ask is ‘How much does it cost to lose my network?’
Satellite technologies allow diverse routing, which has a lot of advantages for the business. Consequently, they no longer just fulfil the role of back-up for mission-critical applications at bad times. Rather they are being deployed for many applications like training, business television, photo processing and much more in the retail space.
Here is what the management at Vizocom has to say about this: “Business continuity planners aren’t as concerned about size and weight as first responders, plus they have the benefit of time. A satellite modem can be pre-deployed to every site and the satellite network is ready to go when you need it. Business customers and retailers are extremely concerned about the monthly cost of a Continuity of Operations (COOP) network. First responders have the attitude ‘we have to get this done,’ while business continuity planners have the attitude ‘what can we get done?’”
Satellite technology is the one that does not depend on regional infrastructure. So, itis the only dependable technology to deliver continuity of operations even during disasters or pandemics like COVID-19.
The course of action forward
At times of worldwide lockdowns, like we are having now, it is not possible to get the same bandwidth as businesses do with their primary connection. While people working from home due to COVID-19 lockdown can carry out simple tasks that the bandwidth in their home internet allows, the critical business functions are difficult to be carried out remotely. This is why planning ahead plays an important role to survive such things. Mission-critical applications should be identified beforehand and prioritized. Through this, you will know what needs to have a backup. Prioritizing critical applications will also allow you to justify your budget. Remember it is better to spend money beforehand to protect your business than facing the loss when the connectivity is completely lost.
Regular review of the disaster recovery plans is necessary to stay up to date. This will ensure that as your business grows and acquires new critical functions, itis also incorporated in the recovery plan. Similarly, one can monitor everyday functions to check where the continuity interruption happens more frequently and come up with a contingency plan for it.
In the end, it is the satellite technology and VSATs that are going to save the day during pandemics and disasters. However, when the disaster strikes, the demand for this will be way more than the supply. Many businesses may lose their connectivity and continuity due to the shortage of supply. Therefore, it is essential to deploy them beforehand so that it is accessible when needed.