Satellite Operator Prepares for Disaster

by Patrick Gannon


Dec 11, 2017

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When you are a large satellite operator, you have a lot of people depending on you. Satellite service is historically very reliable, and maintaining this reliability means being prepared for the worst. Intelsat General recently shared some of their DR (disaster recovery) plan for providing uninterrupted service for their clients. As recent natural disasters have underscored, the need for reliable connectivity, no matter where, or under what conditions is critical. Intelsat, and assuredly other large satellite operators, have given this a lot of thought.

Intelsat begins with a comprehensive disaster recovery plan that specifies in detail what steps are to be taken to recover from disasters and ensure that full operations are restored with minimal impact to customers. One advantage for Intelsat is that with over 50 satellites and triple fiber redundancy, they can reroute traffic to avoid single points of failure. A series of eight teleports, strategically located provide diversity for uplinks and downlinks, minimizing down time.

Satellites are monitored every minute, 24/7 by two fully redundant flight operations centers in the US, one in Virginia, the other in California. If a disaster occurs at either location, control of spacecraft will continue without a break. In addition to flight operations, support facilities in Atlanta, GA and McLean, VA are manned around the clock in fully redundant facilities.

Noting that people are part of this equation, Intelsat understands that they must provide safe and operable quarters for its people. They stock a variety of supplies such as air mattresses, food and water in case employees get stuck onsite for some period of time. In the event that key employees are unable to get to their offices, they are equipped with secure laptops so they can continue to maintain operations.

In January 2014 Intelsat’s DR polices were tested in the ice storm that paralyzed the Atlanta area for nearly three days. It was a result of this event that Intelsat learned that they needed to supply the secure laptops, given that getting to the office was impossible due to the roads being shut down. Thus every event is a learning experience used to improve DR policies.

Intelsat tests their DR plan every few months and had no issues putting it into effect following Hurricane Irma’s devastating path. Following the plan, they dispatched employees to a DR facility, with generator power, phones, secure network connections and other back up resources. For customers there was no difference, as they used the same phone numbers and interacted in the same way as they normally would.

When it comes to their clients, Intelsat points out that government and commercial clients turn to satellites for communications in order to support a variety of disaster recovery scenarios. Satellite can be used to call in immediate medical care, to request supplies, report outages and damaged infrastructure. When terrestrial communications have gone down, satellite provides a lifeline to resources and assistance.

Intelsat recommends that clients develop their own DR plan before they find themselves in an emergency. Consider pre-positioning or having portable VSAT systems available for rapid deployment where needed. BusinessCom can provide an “always on” service so that a redundant or deployable system can be tested at any time, and the bandwidth “turned up” for a month or more, in the event of a disaster. Alternatively, hardware can be purchased and tested, and then activated when needed, taking note that having a deposit on hand will speed up the process. The hardware kit includes everything needed from WiFi router, to access control, firewall and intrusion detection, prioritization of critical traffic like VoIP, secure VPN connections and more. The extensive diagnostics that can be accessed remotely by our NOC (Network Operations Center) are invaluable for the first responder who is not an IT or satellite expert.

Along with Intelsat, one of our satellite partners, BusinessCom is ready to help enterprises deal with whatever Mother Nature delivers.

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