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A social service organization I work with lost it's connection to the internet. It was more critical to their operations than they realized.

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Hi everyone, this is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at askleo.info.

Last week, in a moment of apparent prescience, I wrote an article titled What's a "single point of failure", and why do I need to know? That article discussed how I'd come to identify several unexpected places my connectivity could fail when it did fail, and what I'd done to mitigate such failures in the future. Given my line of work, internet connectivity is obviously crucial to what I do. My contingency plans now include things from some key redundant components, to my unlimited cellular data plan and a table at the local coffee house.

Apparently, at almost the same time I was writing that, a local social service agency was discovering the very same topic, and also discovering it the hard way. In this case it wasn't a technical issue, but the results were the same: they lost their internet connectivity. As I write this a week later, they're still struggling to reconnect.

My point here isn't that things happen - we know that, and we know that it's frequently things that we would never expect.

My point, rather, is that the magnitude of the impact on this type of organization was unexpected. This is a social service agency - think food banks, emergency housing and the like - that had unknowingly become increasingly dependent on their internet connectivity in recent years. While their fundamental operations continue, the organization as a whole is both frustrated, and significantly less efficient in several important areas. That's not the kind of organization that you would expect to be that tech reliant.

And I suspect they're not alone.

My wife's business is another good example - it's a retail collectible doll shop with an on-line presence. In recent years the percentage of sales, and as important, the amount of customer interaction, that happens across the internet has increased fairly dramatically. The internet now factors highly in her business model, and as a result, in any contingency planning I need to do for her business.

Now, it's not a bad thing - the internet is an incredible tool. But like any tool, you need to know what happens when it breaks. If you are, or if you support, traditionally non-technical businesses, facilities or organizations, now might be a good time to review just how important the internet has become in day to day operations. Simply imagine what might happen when your connectivity goes away.

If that's a problem, then some contingency planning is in order.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit ask leo dot info, and enter 10207 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.

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Article C2636 - April 27, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
John
April 28, 2009 9:36 AM

Thanks for the warning. Like you, my entire income depends on being connected. Now, I've recently switched to a phone which is supplied by my cable company, the same as the internet. The cable company tells me that since people are relying on cable internet for their phone connection, its now classed as an essential service (to call emergency services with), and there are very short time limits for failure after which they are obliged to restore service, somehow... Does that sound realistic?

Bassim
May 2, 2009 8:03 PM

If connectivity problem was due to ISP's service failure, then keeping "as a standby" an FWT (Fixed Wireless Terminal) with a prepaid internet service capability is a good choice if such a service is available....such services are spreading toady.

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