Nov 19 2018

Network Uptime, All the Time: Advanced Tech Makes It Happen

Companies deploy novel solutions when network downtime is not an option.

Every day, customers walk into Life Storage’s self-storage facilities to rent space or pay their monthly fees. So, it’s critical that employees have a stable network connection to process rental agreements and payments.

Monstrous storms, however, can knock out internet access, and the company’s ISPs do suffer periodic outages. To ensure network uptime, Life Storage has begun standardizing on Cradlepoint routers — security devices with a modem that provides a backup 4G LTE internet connection — for its storage facilities nationwide.

“In the past, we’ve had locations where internet was out two to four weeks because of hurricanes. We can’t have an outage that long, so with LTE, we are able to get them connected while waiting for the main service to be restored,” says Jeff O’Donnell, Life Storage’s vice president of IT.

Having a disaster recovery plan is important in case of a natural disaster or other emergency. But networks can fail at any time, which can kill employee productivity and hurt sales, customer loyalty and retention.

In fact, Matthias Machowinski, senior research director for IHS Markit, says that 65 percent of the costs associated with network downtime come from loss of productivity. To guard against downtime, it’s wise for businesses to deploy network monitoring tools and increase network redundancy with multiple links to the internet and backup networking equipment, he says.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Maintaining network uptime in all conditions is vital. Learn how four companies do it.

Advanced Tools Enable Redundant Web Access for Life Storage

Based in Buffalo, N.Y., Life Storage is one of the nation’s largest self-storage operators, with 720 facilities in 28 states. Each location is equipped with one or two computers that provide managers and staff access to applications and email.

Jeff O’Donnell
When we fail over to LTE, stores very often won’t notice a ­difference. It runs like it’s their primary connection.”

Jeff O’Donnell Vice President of IT, Life Storage

Internet access is important because most customers come onsite to sign rental agreements, and a good percentage still walk in to pay by credit card, a transaction processed over the internet, O’Donnell says.

Life Storage began transitioning to Cradlepoint routers more than two years ago because the all-in-one devices provide a firewall, intrusion detection and prevention, a secure VPN connection to the company’s data center, and a built-in modem that provides 4G LTE wireless broadband connectivity.

“We subscribe to whatever reasonably priced high-speed internet connection we can get at each facility, which is mostly cable but sometimes fiber. And we use 4G LTE as backup for failover needs,” O’Donnell says.

The company installs Cradlepoint AER2200 routers at new locations or as older firewall devices reach the end of life. So far, about half the facilities have switched over.

The devices, which are easy to install and are placed between the cable modem and PCs at each self-storage location, provide an affordable backup internet solution. Instead of paying full price for two separate internet connections, the company pays a minimal fee to Verizon Wireless to keep each router’s SIM card active and is charged only when it uses the cellular service, O’Donnell says.

Life Storage’s IT department centrally configures and manages each router through Cradlepoint’s cloud-based management software. When the main internet connection goes down, the devices automatically fail over to the cellular connection. “When we fail over to LTE, stores very often won’t notice a difference. It runs like it’s their primary connection,” O’Donnell says.

In fact, for some locations where regular web access is unavailable, LTE is the primary connection. Overall, the backup connection ­provides peace of mind. “Outages don’t happen often, but when it’s needed, it’s well worth it to keep the stores running like business as usual,” he says.

AbelsonTaylor Keeps Eyes on the Network with Monitoring Tech

AbelsonTaylor, a Chicago-based health and wellness advertising agency, uses SolarWinds tools to monitor the health of its network and data center infrastructure. When it detects network outages and performance issues, it alerts the IT staff over email so they can quickly troubleshoot, says Jason Dave, the company’s senior network administrator.

“It gives us close to a 360-degree view,” Dave says. “When something goes down, we get alerted, so we can fix it immediately.”

For example, if employees complain that file server access is slow, he can check SolarWinds to determine what’s at fault: a server, software or the network. And if users can’t access the internet, he can use SolarWinds to determine whether it’s the company’s network or its ISP that has the outage.

“If it’s on my side, it could be a bad transceiver or software bug on our router. But if the ISP is down, then while I wait for them to fix it, I need to make sure our secondary ISP is our new active path,” Dave says.

AbelsonTaylor built in network redundancy throughout its office. The IT department has deployed two Cisco ASR edge routers, two Cisco Nexus 5600 Series switches at the network core and two Fortinet next-generation firewalls for redundancy. If one device goes down, the other keeps the network running.

What’s more, the Cisco Catalyst 3850 Series switches in the network closets have redundant uplinks to the network core. Dave also has cold spares on hand, so if an edge switch fails, he can configure a spare and have it running within an hour. The 20 to 40 people impacted can connect to the company’s Wi-Fi on their laptops to continue working in the meantime, he says.

“We make sure there’s no single ­hardware failure that can cause a major service disruption,” he says. “At the end of the day, hardware can fail at any ­second, and when it does, you need to know about it — and that’s what SolarWinds does.”

Clair Global Keeps Networks Up, Even on Tour

Concert production company Clair Global can’t afford any network downtime when it provides IT infrastructure and communications for large music events such as Coachella. The Lititz, Pa.-based company specializes in audio systems, but in recent years, it has expanded its services to offer IT deployments for festivals and concert tours.


Annual growth rate of the SD-WAN infrastructure market through 2020.

Source: IDC "Worldwide SD-WAN Infrastructure Forecast: 2018-2022," August 2018

For festivals, the company builds a 10-gigabit backbone that runs everything from point-of-sale systems at ­merchandise booths and Wi-Fi for musicians to radio frequency identification at entrances to venues and VIP sections. Sensors quickly scan ­eventgoers’ RFID-enabled wristband tickets, which speeds up entry. Fans can also add payment information to their RFID wristbands, so they can make cashless payments.

“We support complete festival operations by distributing LAN and internet for the entire site,” says CIO Matt Clair.

Uptime in the Face of Temporary Deployments

For singers or bands going on tour, Clair Global provides a small IT rack for the production team that includes Cisco Meraki hardware: a 24-port switch, a Meraki MX security appliance, six Wi-Fi access points and IP-based security cameras.

The rack includes IP-based phones and radios for communication, and a laptop and printer so staffers can print out signs and the day’s schedule as they prepare for the concert.

Clair Global ensures uptime through a mix of cloud-based remote management tools, redundant networking equipment and internet connections, Matt Clair says.

For festivals, onsite Clair Global IT staff deploys a mini data center with servers, hundreds of Cisco switches and up to 600 Cisco or Fortinet access points. For redundancy, they install multiple Cisco Catalyst 9000 Series core switches, multiple Fortinet FortiGate next-generation firewalls and multiple wireless controllers.

The rack includes an LTE modem for a backup cellular internet connection. The IT staff at headquarters manages and monitors the rack remotely through Meraki’s cloud and custom dashboard.

“We can see when production comes online anywhere in the world. As soon as they plug in the rack, it will pop up on our screens, and we can help them troubleshoot if necessary,” he says.


Mike Kemp/Getty Images

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