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Is Your Remote Access Infrastructure Prepared for Catastrophic Failures?
The more complex and widespread a wireless network is the more likely it is that something will go wrong within it. A company specializing in heading off such disasters gives pointers on coping with this ongoing problem.
Posted Nov 15, 2001
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If you operate a data center, telecommunications facility or Internet hosting company, you must ensure that your sensitive electronic equipment is protected. Just consider the potential for damage to your business reputation--not to mention the possible loss of customers--if you don't.

What causes a catastrophic failure? Unfortunately, the possibilities are numerous, ranging from surges or power supply interruptions to excessive heat or humidity in the rooms where delicate machinery is operating.

Liebert, a Columbus, Ohio-based company, offers infrastructure support systems to guard against the events that could bring your business to its knees. James Hall, the firm's telecommunications marketing manager, says that there are many elements to ensuring a company's reliability.

"A wireless system failure is the loss of service on any operational level that would ultimately cause the end user to be without service," explains Hall. "We estimate that 30 percent to 70 percent of the problems on individual networks are related to difficulties in the backhaul or getting data from one point to another over a network."

People commonly believe that interconnections between wireless and wireline networks are easier to maintain than the RF portion, but Hall says that his experience has proven otherwise. "The interconnection within the cell site is a problem. While this is more of an installation than a maintenance issue, it is responsible for a surprising number of wireless network failures," he says.

Problems with the transmit power segment, which is the area outward from the power amplifiers in the cell site, can also cause catastrophic failures, Hall says. Other culprits include problems with antennas and feedlines.

"Finally, there are catastrophic failures that result in power glitches or outages going to systems that do not have the proper infrastructure support. Things like spikes, surges and loss of power can take vital pieces of network equipment down," he says. "This includes sensitive servers and electronics like switches, routers, network servers and transmission equipment."

According to Hall, there are too many operational levels to consider to determine exactly how often these failures occur. On the central office or network switching level, the failure rate is probably quite a small proportion of all wireless failures. "The farther you move away from the central office or network switching environment, the greater the rate of failure," he explains. "By the time you get to the user level, such failures can be a simple issue of a dead battery."

Luckily, damage to hardware from a catastrophic failure is relatively rare, according to Hall. When it happens, it is mostly limited to circuits on a card. However, if your business suffers a catastrophic failure, a small hardware problem might be the least of your worries.

"The biggest damage would be to the reputation of the company, which ultimately can lead to a loss of business for a wireless service provider," declares Hall. "Where quality and reliability are the most important factors in customer retention, the need to keep systems up and running is paramount. Having the proper infrastructure could prevent much of the possible damage--including damage to a company's reputation--caused by a wireless failure. Carriers can gain competitive advantage simply by providing service with fewer blocked calls, fewer dropped calls and less crosstalk. The primary drivers of product and service as a source of advantage will be quality and technical superiority, which will help protect price or allow a superior provider to attack the competition with value-added service at the same price."

There are several entities offering protection to varied sectors in which the companies' livelihoods depend on keeping equipment operational. Liebert's competitors include the power division of Marconi, Tyco International, Argus and Emerson Energy Systems (the latter having bought the power divisions of Nortel Networks and Ericsson).

According to Hall, Liebert recommends that companies with wireless sites and facilities cover their infrastructure 24/7 with an integrated support system that includes power protection, precision cooling systems, monitoring and around-the-clock service and support.

With rotating power outages (also known as rolling blackouts) making headlines in California in 2001, it is no surprise that electricity is a key issue. Liebert offers its customers surge suppression, uninterruptible power supplies, combinations of AC and DC power supply, and power conversion and distribution systems. "The convergence of voice and data transmissions has forced AC and DC equipment to coexist within the same site," he says. "The hybrid AC/DC system provides the utmost in maintainability and fault tolerance."

Precision air conditioning for electronic equipment goes much further than comfort cooling systems for people, explains Hall, because most communications equipment have very tight tolerances with regard to operating temperatures and humidity levels. Precision systems are designed specifically to handle these sensitive operating environments."

As a final step, Hall recommends redundancy on the component level, as well as the ability to configure for redundancy on the system level. "This eliminates any single point of failure and offers a mirrored system that can take over when one of these redundant systems goes offline," he says.

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