Working when the power goes out and the Internet goes down

Working when the power goes out and the Internet goes down

Summary: The importance of understanding the technology dependencies of your business workflow can not be understated.

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TOPICS: After Hours
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It clearly could have been much worse. In an area where some customers lost power, in the middle of a very cold winter, for as long as a week, I was fortunate that my power problems lasted only 3 days. One day of complete outage followed by 36 hours of intermittent, but primarily available power, is better than being one of the customers who just got their power back after more than a week.

off switch

On the plus side, it was nice to see that my, previously untested by real-world conditions, UPS systems performed as advertised. Graceful shutdowns and immunity to the blipping power issues kept everything operational and allowed me to make the choice to leave systems down until the power was fully restored without any damaged equipment or lost data. And throughout the power failures, my Internet provider stayed up and running, justifying the minimal expense of the UPS on the external router.

Initially, I had put the router on a UPS because I switched to VoIP phone services almost a decade ago, and with no traditional landline investing in a UPS that could keep the phones up and running made sense. But as soon as the power was reliably restored I was faced with a new problem; my ISP connectivity went down. Not only did it go down, but it stayed down for the next four days.

To some, this might seem a minor inconvenience, but my business is almost entirely virtual. I connect to clients, write, research, and work sitting at a computer, using the Internet as my resource connection and primary tool for getting work done. So being without a connection meant that a lot of work couldn’t get done.

My provider (Comcast) was of little help; each day they reported that the outage would be corrected by that evening, and each day the updated status reflected it would be fixed the next day. This is actually the first extended outage I had faced in more than a decade of service with this provider, and when compared to people facing freezing temperatures and miserable weather without power, my lack of Internet service isn’t that big a deal. But it did put be behind in getting work done for myself and my clients.

The nature of the outage made it impractical for me to stop by the local coffee shop and work on my notebook. They had opened their doors to people without power and were pretty busy with folks stopping by to recharge mobile devices and keep warm. And I’m always a bit leery about accessing client sites using a public Internet connection, regardless of the security on my end. So this meant using one of my 4G devices as a wireless hotspot to connect my home office network to the outside world.

On the surface, this seemed like a simple solution. I have a decent 4G service and reasonable bandwidth availability. I use a wireless bridge to connect my wired office network to the net, so reconfiguring it was not a major issue. But after the first day I realized that it would be necessary to make some changes to the network. Working strictly from a mobile device such as a tablet simply doesn’t fit the way I work.

Since I make use of cloud services, there is a fair amount of network traffic in the background and I found that I was burning through about 500 MB a day with my normal setup even though I was trying not to do things I knew would suck up the bandwidth of my 4G data package (For example, I normally stream a news channel while I’m working). While a large percentage of that data traffic was email, a significant amount was the replication service I use between my NAS and cloud backup storage, as well as inbound traffic for clients accessing resources on that NAS system.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to the amount of network traffic I generate. It’s not capped by my provider (though at one point they were limiting users to 250 GB per month) and it doesn’t impact my work but now I found myself with a potentially very large mobile phone bill should the Internet outage extend for a significant period. What this meant was that I needed to figure out what was causing the traffic and determine if it was absolutely essential to my business.

Because my high-value data backup system is disk-disk-cloud I was relatively comfortable disabling the final step for what I presumed would be a short period of time. That alone significantly reduced my network traffic. I also made sure I was working strictly with local copies of data and not making demands on the connection for cloud-hosted resources.

The outage did make me rethink the way I work; without really meaning to. I had been integrating cloud-based services into my daily business process. These outages made it clear just how critical my Internet connection had become to my line of business operation. In my case, without an Internet connection I was basically shut down. So to prevent this in the future, I’ve been working on restructuring some aspects of my business workflow so that temporary interruptions don’t stop me from getting my work done.

With a predicted blizzard hitting tonight and possibly again in a few days, these plans may get tested sooner than I had expected.   And it prompts me to pose the question to you; How much of your business workflow depends on a reliable Internet connection?

Topic: After Hours

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16 comments
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  • Typo

    5th paragraph, last sentence. "But it did put be behind in getting work done for myself and my clients."

    be --> me
    talormanda
  • We suffered outages at home and work

    luckily we had a generator at home which kept the essentials humming along fine for three days, but internet was down at both home, and work (Comcast)

    1st day Comcast said "2:30 today". The second day they said "10:00 tonight". The third day they said "crews are working very hard to restore it as we speak".

    We depend on the internet as much of our data is in our corporate offices, and we are still in the midst of replicating data across all our divisions.

    Had we not put a Verizon Wireless temp network together, no one would have been accessing the internet.

    The cloud is fine until you can't connect to that data, which is why we decided to expand and upgrade our existing network.
    William.Farrel
    • Thank goodness I don't use a...

      ...new fangled chrome netbook.
      gomigomijunk
      • No different than a Windows RT, or a Windows PC

        without a connection to the internet...

        you are without a connection.

        :)
        jessepollard
  • Really....

    You have 4G devices and don't have an unlimited data plan? T-Mobile, Sprint, Straight Talk and many local providers all offer an Unlimited Data plan, even for hotspot devices. Yes, it might cost you $50-$70 or so per month, but really, that is completely unlimited 4G speed and at least with T-Mobile, you could simply call them and say you needed to switch to unlimited for the month, then call back and switch back down. Getting one of these is the first step that I would take.

    Additionally, there are plenty of routers that can use the USB tethering feature on your phone.

    Using a laptop works well when the UPS does indeed go down. The reality is that the internet should never really go down at all anymore.
    cmwade1977
    • "The internet should never really go down at all anymore" Really?

      I say this because not everyone had access to 4G service. Plus widespread power outages in a area can affect cell service.
      KerrieG
    • Virtually impossible.

      "The reality is that the internet should never really go down at all anymore."

      That's virtually impossible. Construction workers hit cables, thunderstorms take out power, electronics break down, etc. We've done a great job at making the internet highly resilient, but there will always be some edge cases.

      And there is the aspect of cost as well: There is a cost to maintaining multiple ways of connecting to the internet; unlimited data plans aren't free. Sometimes the cost is well worth it, but sometimes it isn't.

      The reality is you need to have a backup plan and not put all of your eggs in "the cloud."
      CobraA1
      • The "Internet" doesn't go down at all

        Localized connections to the Internet go down.
        aep528
  • We are vulnerable

    A power outage could create chaos in a matter of days. We rely too much on technology and devices. We need to think outside the grid and find ways to operate, basically to live without the need of electricity.
    lobo@...
    • I have a plan

      In case of serious electricity outage I am going to drink all my beer while it is cold and barbecue all the meat that I have.
      It would be awesome.
      paul2011
  • This is why I push for "hybrid."

    This is why I push for "hybrid" solutions such as Dropbox, which have both cloud and local components. With Dropbox, my files are stored locally, but synced to the cloud.

    The idea that a device should become a virtual brick when it loses connectivity is unacceptable, and not in the spirit of being able to access your data anywhere, anytime. We don't live in a perfect world, and nobody can really guarantee nothing will ever happen.

    You simply can't build systems under the assumption that the world will have perfect connectivity someday. It's not a reasonable assumption. We have to live in reality, not in a dream world.
    CobraA1
  • Infrastructure is crap

    Even in Silicon Valley you can easily find places where holy mess of electrical, phone and cable wires hang on the poles and extend from house to house without even slightest hint of planning. It seriously looks like a third world country. No wonder internet and electricity goes down every time somebody sneezes.
    paul2011
    • Easy way to fix the infrastructure

      Just bomb large American cities back to the stone age, like America did to Europe and Japan...
      aep528
      • It's a WAY

        but I wouldn't call it EASY! And after millions of deaths (combined), and one or two decades of living standards BELOW their pre-war levels, and 5 or 6 more decades of enhancement, Europe, Japan and South Korea FINALLY have their improved infrastructure.

        Incidentally, I just learned that part of the power and communications network inside the city of Venezia (Venice) has been retrofitted under the roadways of bridges, including the historic Rialto bridge.
        jallan32
  • My HP Envy laptop won't connect to WIFI when on batteries.

    My HP Envy laptop won't connect to WIFI when on batteries. It's a Windows 8 known issue that neither HP or Microsoft want to deal with. The laptop's default settings automaticallydisconnect it from WIFI when not on AC (Who would want that as a default setting?), but even after this is corrected the computer will not connect when running on batteries. This makes the computer useless during a power outage, even if you use your phone as a WIFI hot spot.
    Roy Moskowitz
    • My HP Envy laptop won't connect to WIFI when on batteries.

      Roy, someone is pulling your leg. What you have is not a laptop if it can't be used without being plugged in. If it can't be fixed get rid of it and demand your money back. BTW, my $350 HP Licorice works just fine with WiFi and batteries.
      jebswebs