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Don’t gamble with the huge costs of downtime

Dan Thornton, head of solution development at Hughes Europe speaks to Talk Retail about the costs of network downtime in retail and how to protect against it.

It is a remarkable fact, but many retailers are not properly protecting themselves against the huge costs of downtime.

Downtime, after all, can be disastrous. It means payment systems do not work, mobility solutions are disabled and the entire mechanism of stock replenishment, inventory monitoring and accounting ceases to operate. Yet the true impact is not simply in lost transactions and crippled back-office functions, it is in damage to reputation and future business.

Faced with these challenges, retailers are fortunate to have a wealth of proven solutions at hand to win the battle for customer loyalty.

The fight is certainly at a tipping point. Customers today expect instant service and have little patience when, for example, the point-of-sale equipment is not working, or nobody can tell them when the product they want will be in stock. Nor do they want to hear that they cannot use their devices in-store.

Equally, as more businesses equip staff with mobile devices for assisted selling, downtime severely jeopardises customer service. Faced with all these obstacles, customers will go elsewhere.

One estimate from the Cradlepoint Retail Survey in 2013 is that downtime costs retailers £3,200 per minute, while Gartner analysts calculate that the average business loses £3,570 per minute when its networks are not working.

For retailers, reliable network connectivity equates to business continuity and any disruption can impact sales and profitability of a single store or the entire business – whether it’s a temporary power failure caused by bad weather, or the collapse of the landline network due to some other disaster. Landline WAN (wide area network) infrastructure is particularly vulnerable as it is dispersed across a wide geographical area and usually comprises many different types of devices and points of failure including routers, point-of-sale equipment, laptops, desktops and even personal devices.

However, despite the obvious dangers, many store operators are putting their faith in flimsy levels of protection. For instance, the installation of a couple of DSL lines for the transmission of a store’s data is not a reliable solution, as both lines will almost certainly use the same exchange and be equally susceptible to failure when disaster strikes.

A redundancy plan utilising different landline carriers will also be vulnerable for the same reason. And given their present state of development, 3G and 4G mobile technologies are still not sufficiently robust that businesses can rely on them as backup when there is a primary terrestrial broadband failure, whether using cable, DSL or fibre technology.

The solution is to employ true alternate path backup technology as built-in redundancy which automatically clicks into operation when primary terrestrial facilities fail.

In this approach, a range of technologies can be employed as backup, including satellite and wireless, depending on which serves as the primary in the customer’s network, and with the goal to achieve the highest availability at the lowest cost, guaranteeing that critical application remain operational. This is especially important as cloud-based applications such as electronic signature services or project management platforms are becoming integral to business strategies. High availability backup is provided through the construction of hybrid WANs combining multiple technologies and parallel networks using two diverse broadband paths at each site.

Low-cost broadband access can be underpinned by backup wireless coverage, as advances in technology mean broadband path failure can be detected in real time and traffic automatically re-routed in seconds.

The welcome conclusion is that help is at hand for retailers with multiple sites by using the most cost-effective mix of satellite or other alternate path technology as backup to bypass vulnerable landline infrastructure. High-performance broadband satellite networking gives blanket coverage and fast connection speeds from an antenna on the roof. It is engaged automatically and routes all traffic in accordance with an enterprise’s pre-determined policies. It is also designed to support enterprise-level use and can back up an entire network or just a few critical locations.

To ensure rock-solid business continuity, retailers who want to get to grips with the issue of downtime need a proven solution with full managed services support that is the best fit for their specific needs.

With the costs of downtime so high, it is simply not worth gambling on unproven systems that are likely to break customer loyalty when put to the test.

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