Martin van Dyk, Director at XDSL

By Martin van Dyk, Director at XDSL

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) and Seacom cables going down simultaneously on 21 January 2016 was a bit of fluke. It was never impossible, just highly improbable. Nonetheless, it happened. Businesses were without connectivity for the duration. It left many business owners wondering if they were sufficiently covered for similar risk. The short answer is: check with your provider.

Email and Internet access are critical tools for business today. They form the backbone of communication – both internally and externally – and are the foundation for conducting business. Downtime can be frustrating and can result in direct losses. As any IT manager will tell you, ensuring failover and redundancy are critical. In fact, one of the first questions businesses should ask their ISP or telecoms provider is: what measures do you have in place to ensure failover?

In South Africa there are an abundance of international cables terminating along the coastline. ISPs and telecoms providers offering South African customers international bandwidth thus have a lot of capacity to choose from. The WACs and Seacom cables are the most competitively priced options. However, although both terminate in a number of data centres, most ISPs connect in Teraco which means there is no failover or redundancy for them. While ISP’s are without doubt aware of the need for failover and redundancy, not all can make a business case for straying too far from these providers.

The big players all have their own direct links to Seacom, WACs and other international cables. This provides second tier ISPs and smaller providers with some alternatives.

Things become less sure further down the line though. Some smaller ISPs pick up their capacity from second tier providers. However, if the second tier provider has insufficient failover or redundancy, the end client is very likely to be impacted.

It is important for second tier ISPs to ensure they have upstream capacity from multiple providers, namely WACS and SAT3, but also from Neotel, which has its own datacentre. The secondary capacity from Neotel gives us the coverage we need as Neotel has capacity on numerous cables.

If you are not sure, you should ask your provider the following questions:

  • What cables do you have capacity on?
  • What capacity to do you have on each for failover – will this be sufficient to cover all your customers?
  • Where are the cables terminated – are there multiple failovers inland?
  • Can I see your network diagramme?

These few simple questions can make all the difference to a business when there is an outage, especially if connectivity is a critical component of the business.  It is therefore prudent for companies to obtain the facts and figures from their ISP.

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