Will the Olympics affect your IT services and Business?

With only a couple of months to go until Olympic Games officially begin in London the business community is abuzz with talk of lost productivity, sickness levels spiralling out of control and worse yet the Internet crashing due to the sheer weight of demand. How real are these threats to your business and what can you do to mitigate them.

Will the Olympics crash the internet?

Let’s start with the big one; The End of The Internet. From the office that brought you the petrol crisis that never was in April 2012, back in February news started circulating from the Government’s Cabinet Office that there is a risk that access to the internet may be diminished at key times during the Olympics due to the high level of demand. This message, while not intentionally alarmist, was picked up by the UK press, broadsheet and tabloid alike, with strap lines of “meltdowns” and “rationing for London businesses”. What is the truth behind this?

As yet unconfirmed by the UK’s major Internet Service Providers is whether they will need to introduce data caps during peak business times. Many of you reading this will have experienced data capping at peak times on your home broadband. If you subscribe to BT, Sky or Virgin, the chances are your internet usage is capped at peak times of the evening. That said unless you are the most ardent of downloaders you won’t actually even notice this happening. None of the ISP’s have actually raised fears around their networks actually descending into meltdown. If it does, then this will be due to a technical issue at their exchanges not a capacity issue.

So there is a risk that your internet could be affected by the Olympics. But there is a risk that that guy with a drill in the street could affect your internet by drilling through your internet line any day of the week. The question is more to do with how important is the internet to your business?

My business cannot survive without the internet because email is my life blood

If your email is hosted in your office and your office has no internet then your email will stop working. If you have IT Services with Virtual IT then your email will continue working just fine even if the internet to your office ceases to exist. With the exception of a handful of customers we host our email in a cloud. Actually it is from various data centres throughout the UK and continental Europe, none of which are in London. As such, so long as you can get onto the internet somehow, whether from your office, at home, your phone or a coffee shop you will be able to continue sending and receiving email seamlessly.

Spread your risk – get another internet line

While having access to email is going to be of primary concern to most businesses, it may be that you are running booking or trading systems where the loss of internet to your office could cost you dearly. If this is you, you should, if you haven’t already, consider investing in a backup internet line, ideally not provided by the same ISP. The logic behind this is that if one provider announces that they are having problems you can switch over to the other line and keep calm and carry on. Something to remember is that a lot of ISP’s actually resell British Telecoms so make sure that if you are with BT that the backup line isn’t BT by any other name; your internet connection will be going through the same exchanges and using the same network.

A relatively new technology you could also consider is bonded DSL. This is where you have up to six lines from an assortment of carriers “bonded” together by way of a special router to both increase your overall upload and download speeds and build in that extra layer of resilience in the event of your bandwidth declining or one of the lines failing. There is still no guarantee of bandwidth with these services but via companies such as Fluidata, you can get a 99.9% SLA with as little as a 3 month contract.

Invest in an internet service that has guaranteed bandwidth and an SLA

Your £20 a month internet bill has no Service Level Agreement and no bandwidth guarantee. If there is an outage on your internet line and you ask for compensation, your ISP has no obligation to restore your service ASAP or indeed provide you with compensation because that 20MB on the advert is only 2MB in your area. They have a service for that you see. Leased lines, or dedicated lines, are private circuit internet connections mostly used to connect multiple office locations with a permanent internet connection. They have no telephone number associated with them and come with a guaranteed uptime assurance. If the world is going mad around you, if you have a leased line you can rest assured that you will be unaffected by any chaos that ensues; or be remunerated for the inconvenience. This peace of mind comes at a significant cost however. Leased lines can cost from several hundred pounds a month up to several thousand; so you really do have to weigh up your needs before investing in one.

Don’t inadvertently disrupt your own internet

Sporting events invariably result in an increase in your internet usage as your staff base turn to various web players to catch some sporting action. Banning this practice out right is one option, however if you are happy to have your staff watch the sport via web browsers, unless you have vast amounts on bandwidth it would be a sound investment to perhaps plug one computer into a large screen that everyone can share as your internet usage will increase for every computer that is running the media player. Otherwise you could see sending and receiving email slow down for you, and browsing the rest of the internet sluggish.

Finally, if you were thinking of doing an office move or provisioning new services in time for or during the games because it was going to be quiet with everybody on holiday or phoning in again, it may be worth thinking again. Provisioning of new services have 28 day minimum lead times as the norm, and we are already seeing these lead times increasing across London as provisioning is restricted due to the games.

Flexible and Remote Working

While the risk of the internet collapsing in on itself is nominal; the risk of London Transport buckling under the strain of the games is very real. TfL has produced a handy map to show you where the most heavily affected areas will be at certain times on the Underground through the Games, you can visit it at www.getaheadofthegames.com. Unsurprisingly it is the areas that are most greatly affected on a normal weekday at 8am. If you thought it was bad folding yourself into a Northern Line train at Clapham North this morning, just wait until August!

This topic is probably far more important a consideration to you than your internet connection. Let’s face it, there is no point having multiple failover internet lines or investing in that lease line, if there is nobody in the office to use it. Or is there?

Remote Working

One option is simply to shift your staff’s working day; starting earlier or later will help with easing congestion across the network meaning we all get in faster and productivity continues. But why even come into the office if you don’t really have to? Office politics dictates that you have to be seen working to actually be working; this is of course massively outmoded in this day and age and is probably a topic in and of itself. Your office is probably already set up to allow your staff to work from anywhere as if they were still in the office. There are obviously still some roles within business that mean you have to be onsite for your working day. However, many of you will be sitting here in your office right now thinking to yourself “I could be just as easily reading this article and doing my work at home.” And on a technical level you are right. As mentioned earlier; hosted email means that work email can be safely and efficiently received from anywhere with an internet connection. Combine this with a secure VPN connection and you can access your office files or even work on your office computer from your living room in Wimbledon, or your country pile in Provence. So long as you have access to a computer and the internet then you can work remotely. If you are using IT services provided by Virtual IT then this technology is already part of your set up and using it is free.

Conclusion

It is inevitable that the Olympics will cause some disruption to your business for its duration. That said, talk of the Internet crashing is somewhat overstated. It is more likely that it will disrupt human side of your business than the technical side. Remote working really is the key area for you to consider as London is going to be really busy during the games and commuting into and around the capital will be a challenge for some, so embrace remote working where you can. If you are intending to work remotely and have not done it before, I would strongly recommend having a test run well in advance of when you actually intend to do it, that was any issues you encounter or questions that it raises can be dealt with well ahead of time.

For our part, Virtual IT already has multiple internet lines coming into our office. Our remote support tools mean that we can remotely manage and support your computers from the comfort of our homes if need be. Our office is actually based in NW6 outside of the critical mass of Zone 1 and with the exception of a handful of staff coming in from Kent we are all able to get into work with minimum fuss. We are confident that our IT services and support will be unaffected by this summer’s main event, The Olympic Games.

If you want to know more about any aspect of this article please make use of the comments box below or contact your Account Manager.

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