Strengthen the Weakest Links

It's time to do a lot of thinking.

Its time to do a lot of thinking.

Since Sept. 11, plenty has been written about public networks and their ability — or inability — to withstand attacks. Our cover story this week, however, takes a deeper look, revealing those areas where the nations communications infrastructure is most vulnerable. Its a chilling reminder of just how exposed we really are. But perhaps the most worrisome finding from our reporting is that the weakest links may not be in the public backbone, but at the carriers edge — the private networks under the charge of corporate I-managers.

"We see the edge — all the way out to remote end-points — as definitely the most vulnerable point of the network," Yankee Group analyst Matthew Kovar told Interactive Weeks Todd Spangler. " Thats the biggest problem out there, but it has been widely ignored."

In the past, I-managers laid out contingency plans for hacker attacks, outages, viruses and worms. But few contemplated outright destruction of voice and data centers. Thats changed. Now any network threat — no matter how outrageous — must be factored into corporate disaster planning.

As I-managers rethink worst-case scenarios and network survivability plans, they might want to refer to a new report issued by The Yankee Group titled September 11, 2001: Infrastructure Impact, Implications and Recommendations. Below are the recommendations I found most pertinent:

•Think about owning your own network. With the complete destruction of network operation centers now at the forefront of so many peoples minds, The Yankee Group says this option must be considered. "Controlling your own network infrastructure and backing it up yourself may provide more bulletproof reliability than any shared carrier service."

•Look into services built on storage protocols. Some optical services — such as real-time backup and data replication — built around Fibre Channel, InfiniBand, Internet Small Computer System Interface and other emerging protocols may prove to be the most resilient.

•Make sure your key providers offer geographically diverse backup options.

•Think hard about using Voice-over-IP services. "While a service provider may not be able to offer a managed VoIP service, any corporation with a dedicated circuit for IP or frame relay can implement its own voice cards in its customer premises devices — either routers or frame relay access devices — for voice redundancy. In the case of overwhelming voice traffic on the network, corporations will still be able to complete calls, if only within the sites of their own network," the report reads.

•Dont just review service-level agreements — make sure your carrier can live up to its commitments.

•Build extra access technologies into your network. The Yankee Group notes that as some companies build new IP-enabled networks, theyre putting in access points to their existing networks.

The full Yankee Group report is worth looking at. The unthinkable is now not just thinkable — its possible. Be prepared.