Access Inc Blog

Is Your Data Center Hooked on Fiber?

Just yesterday my internet went down in the middle of remoting into my office. At the same time, my cellphone, which never drops calls, started dropping them. Calling the provider, as a home user, I was given minimal information other than, “we’re looking into it“. I had a network outage. Hours later, I found out the fiber backbone was cut.

When running a business, “we’re looking into it” is not an acceptable answer. Whether you’re a local retailer, such as a hardware store or grocery store, or a nationwide online shopping service, the internet is enmeshed in the success of running your business. Even unloading a delivery truck today depends on the internet.

So how do you get around, “we’re looking in it”. What happens when construction is going on and some contractor cuts fiber that supports the network connection powering your infrastructure? How long could you sustain a network outage? 

Do You have a Meshed Network in Place to Counter This?

So what is a Meshed Network? According to Wikipedia…

A mesh network (or simply meshnet) is a local network topology in which the infrastructure nodes (i.e. bridges, switches, and other infrastructure devices) connect directly, dynamically and non-hierarchically to as many other nodes as possible and cooperate with one another to efficiently route data from/to clients.

By having multiple network carriers, which enter the building from diverse paths from one another,  data centers can avoid having a single point of failure in the event a provider goes down.  Additionally, by having diverse paths, a fiber cut can be sustained while still being operational via one of our other carriers.  In addition, a fully meshed network is able to mitigate the loss of a single core or distribution router.

So Why Isn’t Every Network Meshed?

There are advantages and disadvantages to every network topology including meshed.

The advantages are:

  • There is no traffic problem as there are dedicated point to point links for each computer.
  • It has multiple links, so if one route is blocked then other can be accessed for data communication.
  • It provides high privacy and security.
  • Fault identification is easy because of point-to-point connection.

While the disadvantages are:

  • Mesh topology requires a high number of cables and I/O ports for communication.
  • Installation is very difficult in mesh topology, as each node is connected to every node.
  • Mesh topology is costly compared to the other network topologies both in labor and equipment.

Options for Large vs. Small Population Centers

So back to when is “we’re looking into it” not the answer for you? What is the answer? Whether a one computer network or a mega data center options are available.

Smaller Cities and Rural Areas

Even in smaller urban or rural areas, staying connected to the internet is critical to the success of your business. Do you have a POS (point of sale) cash register? Do you take credit card payments? No matter what your locale, your equipment uses the internet to send and receive data. Your business can’t afford a network outage.

In many cases, a small city or a rural location might not have access to multiple internet service providers (ISP), especially not if all the ISP’s share the same fiber backbone.

One option is to not think internet and think hardwire. Yep, the good old fashioned telephone service! Even most cellphone companies offer a wireless way to access the internet. Or as another option, buy a basic internet package from a satellite provider. All offer a non-fiber alternative to keep your business connected.

Large Urban Areas

In a large urban area, finding multiple ISP’s on differing fiber networks can be less of a problem. Many large retailers even have their own satellites to provide internet and intranet service.

As a small business owner, having two ISP’s might seem cost prohibitive until you take into account the loss of business. While not having a cash register may not be an issue, many small businesses depend on websites and email to maintain an online retail presence. A $40 per month basic internet package doesn’t seem so cost prohibitive when compared to lost online orders.

For a large data center, minutes down can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income. From insurance companies to financial institutions to automotive manufacturers, downtime equals money. For these data center managers, the cost is in the topology: meshed, star, point to point etc. Labor and equipment is the issue.

Summary

“My internet as down” is the modern equivalent to “my dog ate my homework”. No one is exempt from the effects of fiber dependency. From the student to the remote worker to the data center infrastucture manager, all are “hooked on fiber”. The choice remains the same, what options are available for me or my business to survive when the fiber backbone has been cut?

Published, 7/18/19 By B.W. Coenen.

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