Maintaining the integrity of data during a disaster is one of the pillars of a successful disaster management plan, but investing in a remote location without investing in the means to get the information there and back safely could well be an exercise in futility, according to Colin MacDonald, business solutions manager with Digicel Cayman.
Due to the susceptibility of the Cayman Islands to hurricanes, many businesses will have data replication going off island on a continual basis, often to another offshore location, with Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man in the UK being popular locations, as well as Hong Kong and Ireland. As the data warehousing industry has grown, the importance of interconnectivity between these centres has grown exponentially as well.
“These are some of the main jurisdictions that people will look to to pull back their data from after an emergency or to operate from during an emergency situation. Obviously physically these are a long ways away, so what people do is they try to replicate that data over the common network, which is the Internet,” says MacDonald.
However, using the Internet as the conduit for data replication can present numerous challenges, especially when working with large amounts of data. By its nature, the Internet is a shared network, which means that the user has no control over the amount of traffic travelling over it. As the Internet does not provide a direct point to point service, data can take a roundabout path, which can cause a disruption to the integrity of the data.
“What happens; therefore, is that the information can take varying amounts of time from location A to location B. That might be a matter of milliseconds, but that has a big effect on applications, from using them to just sending your data between the two locations. Often these applications can fail for that reason,” says MacDonald.
One of the challenges businesses face is that under normal circumstances, a plan that relies on the Internet for data transfer might seem to work within acceptable parameters, only to fail when critical data has to be moved off island in preparation for a hurricane.
“If you take a very limited test of that environment it will work, because on day-to-day business you’ll replicate things in small increments as you are only adding a small amount, so that sometimes will work to an extent over the Internet. But when you start looking at exchanging large files from point A to point B they are virtually guaranteed to fail – the Internet just can’t support that level of data transfer,” says MacDonald.
This can become much more apparent when there is a hurricane warning in the Caribbean and multiple users all try to replicate their data in preparation for an incoming storm.
“If you think about the fact that the Caribbean essentially has one landing point, which is Miami and some routes up to New York, these routes will be absolutely flooded with everybody over numerous islands within the Caribbean sending all of their information out to their data centres in different jurisdictions and therefore you are going to get congestion and these applications will absolutely fail in that environment,” says MacDonald.
The only way to exercise a greater level of control over the path your data follows to from your location to your backup location is to invest in a private wide area network.
“With a private network there comes a guarantee of service, based on different metrics, that your information will arrive within a certain period of time, it will arrive in sequence, the packets aren’t broken off and arrive at different points and basically you are guaranteeing that the applications and the user experience that you have within your own office environment and business environment on a day to day basis will continue during whatever that disaster may be and afterwards as well,” says MacDonald.
The importance of a private network becomes especially apparent during the recovery phase, when vast amounts of data will need to be brought back to the Cayman Islands as local operations are rebuilt. Attempting to do this over the Internet will be problematic if not entirely impossible.
With Digicel’s private network services, it is possible to flex bandwidth as needed, so that if under regular circumstances you run a 10MB connect to an offshore location, the bandwidth could be flexed up to 30MB or 40MB in order to back up information quickly in the case of a hurricane warning. When the data needs to be retrieved, the bandwidth can be flexed again in order to bring the information back to Cayman much faster than would be possible on a static network or over the Internet.
“There is no point to having a large driveway if you are going to drive into a bottleneck on a highway. You need to have your own lane on that highway that is purely for you and your business,” says MacDonald.
According to MacDonald, Digicel has also gone further to ensure that resiliency is built into the services the company provides, whether it be dedicated Internet access or private wide area networking.
“If any of the subsea cable systems such as MAYA1 were to be affected by an earthquake or a hurricane event then all your information would immediately, sub 25 milliseconds, be diverted over the Cayman Jamaica Fibre System, which is a cable route over Jamaica and then to New York where it will be picked up and reach its final destination as if nothing had happened,” says MacDonald.
Digicel builds on its own Caribbean network through partnerships with global wide area network providers who provide high availability routes with a high availability platform to ensure that business connecting into those wide area networks will be able to continue to conduct business.
“We have a close partnership with specifically Masergy communications and they have been leading the way in disaster recovery in broadcast media to make sure that businesses that have to stay 24/7 live during any event stay live and they are recognised as having the best quality of service of any of the networks available today globally. Again for people who feel that their information must arrive first time in sequence and work we find that they are the provider of choice,” says MacDonald.