A Look Inside Telecommunications Infrastructure

Telecom Network Server

Mother Nature

Hurricane Sandy’s devastating effect on the East Coast recently tested the preparedness of some of the most advanced telecommunications systems in the world against the worst that Mother Nature has to offer. Lots of telecom infrastructure was knocked out due to flooding and there were concerns that backup power systems wouldn’t be able to sustain service until utility crews could restore power.

Such disasters are precisely when telecom services are most desperately needed, so the knowledge gained from this event will likely inform disaster operations for the few companies which dominate the US telecommunications market. Just a handful of large corporations provide the East Coast’s cell phone, TV, Internet and traditional land line service. And the health of their network infrastructure is integral to the US economy (which lost tens of billions due to Sandy) as well as to the survival of many residents in one of the most densely populated urban regions on the planet.

Servers are the Backbone of Telecom Networks

This storm no doubt revealed some weaknesses for carriers who have a large amount of telecommunications infrastructure in at-risk locations, not the least of which is the sturdiness of the carrier grade servers that are the backbone for the world’s largest wireless companies.

Telephone lines and even cell towers can be damaged by high winds and flooding, knocking out service to a neighborhood. But the servers are critical to the network; if they go down, it doesn’t matter how many towers and landlines are operative. Disasters on the scale of Hurricane Sandy make it more important than ever to have robust infrastructure that can provide service throughout the worst conditions.

Carrier Grade Servers and NEBS Compliance

The telecommunications industry plans for extreme disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and other disaster events, during which their networks are simultaneously most at risk and most critical to their customers. The Network Equipment Building Systems standards (NEBS) is a set of industry standards on testing and compliance to help networks design and maintain the country’s telecommunications infrastructure in a way that makes it robust enough to stand up to extreme weather events and natural disasters.

Rigorous NEBs testing for back end technologies like carrier grade servers is an essential part of ensuring that telecom technologies can keep working in the most stressed environment, not just under normal conditions. A NEBS-compliant telco server needs to stand up to extreme temperatures, survive certain levels of seismic activity, and contain certain fire safety features. Such design helps servers stand up to conditions during and after natural disasters, when their operation is most critical to serve the public and the emergency crews that enter affected areas.

Scalable Network Solutions

Because the frequency of these types of extreme weather events is likely to increase in coming years, carriers will need to find fast, scalable solutions to building their future infrastructure. In the past, NEBS-compliant systems have been highly customized, requiring more resources and manpower to implement. But now that more market-ready solutions are available, companies should have the ability to rapidly expand their networks, which hopefully will lead to more robust recovery plans for restoring lost service after a catastrophic event.

Events like Sandy have taught both the telcos, public utilities and disaster relief organizations much about how our critical infrastructure may be vulnerable. But hopefully, it has also validated standards like NEBS, and proven the value of having robust, scalable infrastructure that can withstand extreme conditions and recover rapidly when needed. Better technology will help carriers continue to serve their customers and enable critical coordination and communication to happen during disasters, precisely when the public most needs it.

About the Author: Jared Jacobs has professional and personal interests in technology. As an employee of Dell, he has to stay up to date on the latest innovations in large enterprise solutions and consumer electronics buying trends. Personally, he loves making additions to his media rooms and experimenting with surround sound equipment. 

[Image source: getbutterfly]


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