Eyes On Disaster Recovery: Enterprise Wireless Beyond WLANs

by Jacqueline Emigh

'Enterprise Wireless' doesn't just mean 'WLAN' anymore as companies search for disaster recovery alternatives and come to grips with popularity of instant messaging among their employees.

"Enterprise wireless" isn't synonymous with simple 802.11 wireless LANs any more. Government agencies and research institutes are now starting to deploy broadband wireless networks for unplanned outages and disaster recovery. Meanwhile, big financial brokerage houses are doing reams of instant messaging (IM) over the RIM paging network.

At a conference held by the Wall Street Technologies Association (WSTA) this week, speakers touted the manageability and cost effectiveness of emerging wireless networking alternatives, versus their wired counterparts.

Just like high-speed optical networks, broadband wireless services can provide network redundancy, failover, and "carrier diversity" for business continuance in case of disaster, said Fabrio Campagna, IDT Winstar's director for private line and business continuity.

9/11 a catalyst for wireless
Broadband wireless, though, is more "flexible," according to Campagna. Redundant networks can be implemented almost immediately, "without digging up the streets."

"9/11 (has spurred) new backup systems for Wall Street," he illustrated. "The lack of backup lines (left) lower Manhattan vulnerable."

Far beyond terrorist attacks, enterprise network outages can be caused by hardware or software failures on enterprise nets; carrier CO outages; transportation accidents; blizzards; hurricanes; earthquakes; maintenance cable splices; and programming errors, for example.

Campagna pointed to Winstar users that include federal agencies FEMA and GSA, along with "a leading Washington, DC-based biomedical research institute."

RIM wireless pagers continued to operate even during the peak of the 9/11 disaster, noted Mehdi Maghsoodnia of FaceTime Communications.

Morever, increasing numbers of end users - stock brokers, in particular - now prefer IM to either e-mail or voice, anyway, he maintained. Users are "IM-ing" over both wireless networks and enterprise wired nets. Unlike e- mail, IM allows for "realtime" communications. Unlike voice, it provides an easy way to broadcast information to multiple users. Meanwhile, IP consumes such a small slice of bandwidth that it can operate even over wireless wide area networks (WANs) such as RIM, according to Maghsoodnia.

The bulk of IM usage is still among consumers, he acknowledged. However, four major players are now formulating "enterprise IM strategies," meant to add the administration and security capabilities that network managers require.

"Enterprise IM" - Lotus to be joined by Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo
"Lotus and IBM are already out there with Sametime," he pointed out. Yahoo recently rolled out its own enterprise IM strategy.. Enterprise strategy announcements are forthcoming, too, from both AOL and Microsoft, Maghsoodnia predicted during his talk.

For security and manageability, Lotus has added compliance with the SIP/SIMPLE protocol in the just released Sametime 3.0. Microsoft is already supporting SIP/SIMPLE in Windows XP, Maghsoodnia said, during an interview after his presentation. He added that AOL has promised to "open up its architecture" to SIP/SIMPLE, but that it hasn't done so yet.

Under Microsoft's strategy, codenamed Greenwich, enterprise IM is expected to appear in the next edition of Windows after XP.

The IETF's SIP protocol, though, is actually a call set-up infrastructure, with other uses far outside of IM. SIMPLE adds a set of extensions.

In the US, as opposed to Europe, end users generally prefer doing IM on PDAs and PCs to doing SMS messaging on cell phones, he said. "SMS is more primitive. It doesn't have IM's capabilities for 'presence'- for 'telling who else is on line' - for example. But SMS will gradually 'become' IM."

Disaster recovery - federal agencies turn to wireless broadband
In the wired world, optical solutions for enterprise backup and disaster recovery can be achieved over either "private dark fiber or managed services from metro services providers," according to Brian McCann, chief marketing and strategy officer for the WSTA.

FEMA and GSA, though, turned to wireless broadband after a Verizon cable was cut during the 9/11 disaster, Campagna said. Winstar used DS-3 radio systems to help restore voice and data connectivity to government buildings at 40 Foley Square and 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan.

For the Federal Plaza site, connectivity to Sprint FTS 2001 was achieved within seven days. It took only three days, though, to bring back ISDN PRI and Centrex services to Foley Square, according to Campagna.

The DC-based research institute, on the other hand, is using Winstar's wireless broadband services to add a redundant "rooftop network" to a pre- existing wired scenario which depends on CLECs and LECs for telephony and WAN data services.

Wireless broadband "gives (the research institute) an alternate network path. Most CLEC solutions share common facilities and routes with a LEC. Limited route diversity exposes potential failure points," according to Campagna.

Utilizing Winstar's central office (CO), wireless hub equipment, and Protected Path Metro Ring, the "post-business continuity network" is "always available as a failover to the primary network, and is also utilized extensively to support load balancing," Campagna asserted.

Several networking consultants attending the WSTA's "Hot Technologies" conference in New York City said their customers are starting to prefer wireless broadband for business continuity. "You can put up a couple of antennae in a few hours," maintained one show-goer.

Still, though, organizations intrigued by broadband wireless should take a careful look at providers' capabilities, Campagna advised.

Selection criteria should include security; 99.999% reliabity; installation and provisioning time; 24/7 support; ownership of facilities; potential safety concerns; and use of the licensed spectrum, for example. "Unlicensed solutions can be subject to interference and blockage," he admitted.

IP infrastuctures can help, too
According to Rob DePinto, a speaker from Cisco, some businesses struck by the 9/11 disaster managed to keep going anyway, by relying on wired IP- based services.

Cisco is now developing "survivable remote office telephony" and XML-based unified messaging which leverages the IP infrastucture, Cisco IOS routing, and in some cases, Cisco IP phones, added DePinto, who is Cisco's business development manager for Advanced Technologies.

One technology now under experimentation is "Cisco Hoot and Holler," an IP- based automatic ringdown service that avoids the need for switching through a central office. Other future possibilites from Cisco include IP-based call recording; speech recognition applications, video telephony, and SIP-based carrier managed service offerings, DePinto said.

» See All Articles by Columnist Jacqueline Emigh

This article was originally published on Friday Oct 18th 2002