Gary D's Take

Is your internet service mission critical?

You have probably heard the term mission critical data, if you are in business, you definitely have some. What you may not have is a plan to secure that data. Ok, you back up your Accounts Receivable and somebody takes those disks home every night and all the important legal papers are in the safety deposit box at the bank, that’s a good start but let’s take a closer look at Mission Critical.

How important is email and internet access to your business? The best way to determine this is think back to the last time you didn’t have access to email or the internet. Was it just an inconvenience or did you lose money over it? Were you customers inconvenienced enough to go somewhere else, even for just that order? Was an important proposal or bid delayed? Did some business critical emails get lost in the shuffle?

I have jokingly suggested that one definition of Mission Critical is “Will anybody die without it?” As unlikely as that sounds, one of Bright Houses’ Dedicated Access customers is Walton County Florida. Their Lifesaver helicopter is dispatched through an internet based radio system. For Walton County, the answer might very well be YES!

What’s the difference in the different kinds of internet access that are available? Basically you have dial-up, DSL and cable modem services, wireless, T-1, DS-3 copper telephone line based technology and fiber. Dial-up, DSL, cable modem and wireless are all Best Effort Services. Best Effort means just what it says; the provider will make their best effort to a) keep the service on and b) to make it meet the advertised specifications as closely as possible. In a Best Effort situation, the provider will do the best they can but there are no guarantees.

T-1s and some copper line based technology along with fiber solutions like Bright House Dedicated Access can be guaranteed. Service Level Agreements or S.L.A.s can be provided with these services. S.L.A.s typically guarantee things like uptime, latency, data throughput and most importantly, they spell out an escalation program to ensure that the service is back on in a specific amount of time in the event of an outage. In our next installment, we will take a look at S.L.A.s and how they can differ. For now be aware that you copper line solution may or may not have an S.L.A. Also bear in mind that even if you have an S.L.A, it may not be a very good one.

Let’s get back to deciding if you need a guaranteed service. There are two things to consider 1) Can you put a specific dollar figure loss on some time period in the event of an outage? For example, one company discovered that during a T-1 outage, they lost $20,000 per hour! That sounds like an exaggeration but this large distribution company does about $250,000 per day. On the day that their T-1 went down for 5 hours, they did about half that amount. The rest is just a little quick math. Your situation may not be quite this dramatic; however, if you think back to the last time you were without service, did you lose money? If you answer yes then it won’t be real hard to put a dollar figure on that loss, which leads us to item 2) will the loss make up the difference you will have to pay to get guaranteed service? In the case of our example company, the answer is a resounding YES! No matter what solution they chose, it will most likely be less than $20,000 per hour. The simple fact is that a guaranteed service will always be more expensive than a Best Effort service. Will the loss from an outage be offset by the savings on a Best Effort service? For lots of smaller companies, the answer is yes however, for many companies the balance sheet may tilt the other way. The best way to make that determination is to look at what services are available, the cost and do some simple math.