Network Service Interruptions: Getting Prepared

Post #2: The Conversation About Customer Service

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Network service interruptions are a fact of IT life, no matter who your provider is. Sometimes your provider is dealing with a forced-fibre relocation or road construction. Or they might be patching a security node or performing regular maintenance, repairs and testing. When any network activity is going to cause an interruption, your provider will issue a service release, which alerts you in advance to any downtime.

As a manager of customer releases group at Allstream, I oversee the scheduling and coordinating of maintenance activities between our operational groups and customers. Here are five things you can do to make a scheduled service interruption as painless as possible.

1. Don’t be in denial – service interruptions are going to happen

A release can affect hundreds of circuits and anywhere from five to five hundred customers, so we try to schedule the work for times that will have the least negative impact. That usually means scheduling releases for off-business hours, but we cannot always meet that target. And for many businesses today, there are no off hours. So be aware that releases are going to happen and that your service may be impacted. And make sure that the right people in your organization know when a release is scheduled.

2. Work with your provider

We send out an email to alert you of a scheduled incident two to three weeks ahead of time. That email contains the time of the release, the estimated outage time and a list of circuits affected. It’s important that you carefully read the email and make sure you understand all the details. If you’re unsure about anything, give us a call. You should also call if the release is going to negatively impact your organization. Depending on the sensitivity of your predicament we can sometimes coordinate our internal resources to reschedule. But although we do our best to accommodate such requests and to meet your SLAs and embargo periods, sometimes this is not possible. Releases normally effect more than one customer, and each customer will have their ideal release time and date. We also have to accommodate our suppliers, who schedule their own releases for maintenance and upgrade. In order for us to accommodate your needs the best we can, please inform us the best times for a service interruption and any special network and business requirements you have.

3. Know your network inside out

You can only understand how downtime will impact your business by fully understanding your network and IT services, including which aspects of security and network management are your responsibility and which fall to your provider. Don’t have a false sense of security and tell yourself your service is never going to fail or it will be restored in the minimum amount of time. You need to be aware which failover capabilities are built into your network, what your normal recovery times are, and how your SLAs and QOS impact your services. This is not always as easy as it sounds. You may be getting Internet from one provider, network services from another and wireless from a third. Because of this complexity, you may not know the full impact of a release until it happens. Smaller companies in particular may not have access to a CSM who can explain how downtime will impact their network and communications infrastructure. The more you know about your communications infrastructure the better we can support you during a release. You also need to get the right services to start with and to ask the right questions when you sign up for them.

4. Have the right business continuity plan in place

Because downtime, planned and unplanned, is a fact of life, you need to have an effective IT business continuity plan in place. That starts with determining which technology channels are most important to your business and how long you can afford to have them inoperable. Take a look at your communications infrastructure and ask: which functions can my business do without, and for how long? Should my wavelength be protected against an outage? How important is it to have my network running after hours? For banks, it’s very important to be open online 24//7. For a store with no online services, a network interruption on a Sunday night is probably not a big deal. To understand which services are most important to you, you need to fully understand how your business works.

5. Maybe it’s time to diversify your network

Ultimately, the best defense against any downtime is a diversified network with failover capabilities and other backup services. If you really can’t afford to have your network down for one minute, then it’s probably time to look at a more diversified network solution to prevent any service interruption. There are always going to be power outages, repair issues, security incidents, moves, upgrades—why not be prepared in advance? You may want to go with a fully managed service if you don’t have in-house IT capabilities, or you might opt for a partially managed service in which a provider provisions backup capabilities for your network. You can also manage those capabilities yourself, but you still have to have them and understand how much protection they provide.

If you found these service interruption tips helpful or have any questions please include them in the comments section below.

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