When Disaster Strikes: Will Your Network Pull through? Switching to Wireless Broadband Is Essential to a Quick Recovery

By Kantor, Jonathan | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), March 2006 | Go to article overview

When Disaster Strikes: Will Your Network Pull through? Switching to Wireless Broadband Is Essential to a Quick Recovery


Kantor, Jonathan, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


THE DESTRUCTION WROUGHT by Hurricane Katrina only weeks before Hurricane Rita was set to strike put the Nederland Independent School District on heightened alert. A southeast Texas district that supports about 5,000 students across eight campuses, Nederland lay directly in Rita's projected path. With the storm forecasted to make landfall somewhere near the district's immediate area, Nederland's technology staff--the caretaker of 14 Internet-connected labs serving 1,800 computers--began to prepare for the inevitable.

As Rita bore down, the district did everything it could to safeguard its technology infrastructure, from creating back-ups of all critical data--physically taking servers off-line--to loading servers into a vehicle and driving them to a more secure location. Network equipment was powered down to protect key assets and minimize any damage that might be caused by the impending storm.

On Sept. 24, Rita struck, and over the next several days caused 54 deaths and more than $6 billion in physical damage, leaving more than 1.1 million people without power. The Nederland district took its share of the blow, incurring more than $10 million of damage to its structures and roofs. No campus was left untouched. Two weeks later, power was returned to the area, and the Nederland technology team began the process of restoring its information services.

A Speedy Recovery

What happened next is nothing short of amazing, as well as instructive. Within two days, all of Nederland's servers were back online and the network was fully operational. All of the network equipment was functioning, with the exception of one radio that was fixed on-site the next day so that the district's connectivity could be fully restored.

Neighboring school districts didn't fare as well. Downed utility poles scattered across the region kept many districts from quickly restoring their network apparatus. The delays left teachers and district staff without critical services, such as e-mail and Web sites with updated district information. The delays also contributed to postponements in the resumption of classes, forcing districts to make up the lost class time by extending the school year and adjusting their scheduled holiday breaks.

What had Nederland done to reestablish network connectivity so promptly while other districts grappled with delays? What made all the difference was the district's decision to move to a wireless broadband network well before Rita came calling. The districts that struggled to get their networks up again depended on local Internet providers and traditional telecommunications providers.

The lesson to take, in Katrina's aftermath, is how a fully managed wireless broadband network, with remote turnkey support, is ideally suited for disaster recovery. The solution minimizes the dependency that many schools have on internal support departments and regional telecommunications infrastructures for their network services. With a wireless design, schools can restore their network service more quickly than they can restore miles of downed telephone poles and wires; this allows districts to provide vital information at a time when it is most needed.

Cindy Laird, Nederland's director of Instructional Technology, says succinctly, "Broadband wireless service was instrumental in our recovery."

Thanks a Trillion

To execute its transition from a low-bandwidth infrastructure to a high-speed broadband network, Nederland chose Trillion Partners (www.trillion.net), which it was already employing for a host of other information services. Most importantly for disaster recovery, Trillion's Network Operations Center provides remote support and ensures that the the district's network is performing to expectations. The NOC's around-the-clock monitoring offers, literally, shelter from the storm--"a level of comfort," Laird says, "that many tech directors do not have. …

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