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  • Writer's pictureMatt Ferguson

Never have a single point of failure

In our increasingly connected world, it's getting harder to avoid Internet-connected devices. The Internet-of-Things is here to stay. As a consequence, businesses and home users alike need to take into account how to both secure these devices and keep them reliably connected to their local networks.

For businesses, the challenges presented by the growing complexity of networking are real. When you rely on your security system, point-of-sale terminals, cordless phones, and store computers to be constantly connected to the Internet, essentially any downtime becomes a nightmare. Twenty years ago, we still had landline phones and manual credit card processing options as failsafes if the Internet went down; today, few businesses are equipped to handle a network outage, whether the outage is local or on the Internet provider's end.

In many cases, these small businesses just either don't have the budget to throw at additional hardware or they simply haven't reviewed their IT infrastructure in a while. More often than not, when a small business loses network or Internet access, the reason is that they have single points of failure within their IT systems. In this instance, a single point of failure is a link between two devices that has no backup or redundancy.

Consider a small business with a wireless access point/router/modem combo unit supplied by their Internet service provider. They might have an Ethernet switch connected to this device, which is then connected to everything else in their business, including deskphones, wireless access points, printers, barcode scanners, and so on. If the single Ethernet cable connecting the switch to the modem fails, everything in the shop goes offline.

Similarly, if the switch itself fails, everything goes offline. Worse yet, smaller businesses tend to rely on ISP-supplied hardware alone, which is rarely robust enough to handle guest WiFi networks and the demands of many connected devices. These cheap, consumer-grade devices rarely support VLANs (virtual local area networks) and the more advanced security features that businesses need.

Redundancy is key in many aspects of life, but especially when it comes to the devices and services on which your livelihood depends. I've never been an advocate of overspending on hardware, though many IT service providers will try to convince you that throwing money at a technical problem is the best solution. At Geek Housecalls, I advocate for strategic IT spending, getting the most bang for your buck. Of course, I could make more money by selling $80,000 Cisco switches to medium-sized companies that don't need them, but in my opinion, that's a great way to lose clients.

Often, a relatively small investment of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars can net big improvements in your business's network redundancy, so you aren't left hanging if one switch goes offline, one cable fails, or even if your primary Internet service provider experiences an outage. By combining a landline Internet connection with a cellular (4G/5G) connection through an affordable dual WAN (wide area network) router, you'll be able to keep your business running even if your main Internet connection goes down. Likewise, by installing two less expensive Ethernet switches, rather than one expensive switch, you've improved your local network's resiliency and kept important resources available to yourself and your employees in the event of a hardware failure.

When budgeting for adding this kind of redundancy to your business or home IT systems, consider that a redundant Internet connection can often be had for as little as an additional $40 a month, or less if your bandwidth needs are lower. This is the kind of strategic spending I'm referring to when I say "don't overspend on IT".

What's most important, moreso than agonizing over hardware choices, is having a reliable IT partner that's available when you need them. I routinely hear stories from our current clients about month-plus lead times just to get Internet installed at a new home--and these long wait times are from multibillion dollar corporations who should have the manpower at their disposal to get things done quickly. I consider that unacceptable. Tech companies seem to be getting worse at earning their customers' business, and are instead taking it as a given. This is not the way.

Get in touch with Geek Housecalls today for a free analysis of your home or business's IT needs and let us give you the information you need to make the right choices rather than the expensive ones.

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