Five-nines network uptime will be as important as phone uptime

It always amazes me when I read or hear that Canadians should accept less than 99.999 per cent uptime for their network/Internet systems. Would Canadians accept just 98 per cent uptime for their telephone systems, as a recent article (“Five-nines uptime over-hyped?”, page 4, January 26) suggests is acceptable for network uptime? I doubt it. How quickly does senior management hear about and get involved in a situation where the company’s phones are knocked out for even a short period of time?

And yet, if you were to ask 10 business people on the street where they would get information about a company they were interested in buying from, how many of them would be willing to search around for their copy of the Yellow Pages, blow the dust off the cover and start thumbing through the pages to find a telephone number, let alone the right person? I’d be willing to bet that 10 out of the 10 would respond by saying: “I’d rather go to their Web site.”

Herein lies the dilemma. Despite the fact that the Internet, aside from pure eBusiness applications, is becoming increasingly important as a source of information and as a first point of contact, most Canadian companies view downtime as a cost of doing business. They see the Internet as inherently unreliable and are prepared to live with the consequences, no matter what the direct and indirect costs. This need not be the case.

As IDC’s Mr. McLean rightly points out in the article, there is a trade-off between five-nines reliability and cost. It is indeed very expensive for any single company to achieve and maintain this level of uptime. Building and staffing a secure environment that provides 24×7 monitoring, managed services like firewalls and load balancing, redundant power, battery backup, diesel generators, HVAC and direct connections to multiple Internet backbones, is clearly not a viable proposition for even the largest of companies.

There is, however, a practical and affordable solution. That is, to outsource one’s Internet infrastructure. While this is a well-established practice in the U.S., it has yet to catch on in the mainstream of Canadian business. Internet infrastructure providers, like Q9 Networks, have built highly secure, redundant physical facilities, have purchased bandwidth from multiple Internet backbone providers and have hired staff with deep Internet expertise to provide 24×7 monitoring and implement complex protocols like BGP4 that enable intelligent routing. This large-scale investment allows Q9 to offer its customers unparalleled reliability, with 100 per cent SLA-backed guarantees on network availability and power, something that’s rare in Canada.

From a technical infrastructure and connectivity perspective, there is a practical solution to delivering consistent five nines reliability, and higher. Furthermore, Q9 makes the solution affordable to a broad spectrum of Canadian businesses by spreading the associated costs across its customer base.

With the technical and cost problems solved, the issue becomes one of changing current beliefs and practices. Although change can be difficult to accept, Canadian businesses and network administrators need to know that by outsourcing Web infrastructure to companies focused solely on providing this type of service, they can avoid the pain of unplanned downtime and achieve significant ROI from their Web applications. While five nines may not currently be a requirement for staying in business, it is certainly becoming a requirement for staying competitive. The Internet is certain to become an increasingly entrenched channel of customer communication and eventually, network downtime will be as unacceptable as picking up the telephone receiver and not hearing a dial tone.


Osama Arafat,

CEO, Q9 Networks, Inc.