Green Power For Disaster Recovery

Hurricane Sandy not only destroyed property but the power grid as well.  Many businesses had to close due to a lack of power.  Some had a generator system in place that restored at least part of their electric needs.  But for the most part, Long Island and the New Jersey shore was in a state of black out for weeks to months.

Generators are possibly the number 1 item that is used for emergency

Stationary generators are the standard in emergency power
Stationary generators are the standard in emergency power

power that is used as part of a disaster recovery plan.  Most stationary generators run on natural gas which is supplied by underground pipes.  That is the same gas that is used to heat homes and provide cooking fuel.  One of the big concerns with using natural gas is the delivery of the fuel.  What if a large tree falls and the roots rip out the pipe somewhere along the line? It happens from time to time.

Some generators may have fuel stored in tanks on site like diesel, gasoline, propane and now some are using bio-fuel.  But those are subjected to delivery problems if tankers cannot get through.  Plus if not used the fuel can go stale or in the case of diesel, bacteria will grow in the fuel unless it is properly treated.  Not to mention the fire hazard that these can be subject to like with gasoline.

Using green power can be a viable substitute for fossil fuels but that too has some drawbacks.  I am going to run down the two most popular forms of green power fairly simply so you can have a better understanding of what is available.

Green Power is a name that is used for renewable energy that does not rely on fossil fuel.  The three forms that are widely used to produce electricity are hydroelectric, solar and wind.  Geothermal is another emerging method but is not really ready for the mainstream at this time.

Hydroelectric uses water to turn a turbine which in turn runs a generator.  This has been used very successfully for many years long before the term Green Power came about.  But it requires a dam to block a river to form a reservoir that supplies water to turn the turbines.  This is out of reach for any small to large business and really is only feasible on a grand scale.  Power companies have the resources to do this and as I indicated earlier have done so successfully for many years.

Next is solar power.  This is clean, noise free and easy to install.

Solar panels are placed either on top of a building, over a parking lot or in a field where they can catch as much sun light as possible generally facing south in the United States.  The panels can either heat water for domestic use and heating, or they can generate electricity through photovoltaic cells in the panels.

The panels that heat water contain an array of water tubes where water is circulated through either from street water pressure of by a circulator pump.  The water in turn can be stored into an insulated tank until needed or pass through a heat exchanger that transfers the heat to another source of water.

The problem with solar is if there is no sunlight or limited sunlight where in that case the water would not be heated and there has to be some form of shut off to prevent heated water from being cooled as it is circulated back to the panels.  For this a backup heating source might be required.

It is apparent that using solar for hot water can be best used to supplement existing systems.  But in a disaster situation this maybe the only viable alternative provided that you still have electricity to run circulator pumps.

Another problem with using solar heat for hot water is no different than any other plumbing system and that is leaks can happen. The joints should be inspected routinely and if a leak is found or a fitting looks weak then a plumber needs to be called in.  Thankfully leaks are few and far between.

Using solar for electrical power is possibly the most ideal use for it.  Like in the example above panels are placed to catch as much sunlight as possible.  Instead of heating tubes filled with water, photovoltaic cells in the panels convert the solar energy into electrical current.

solarThe current the panels produce is known as Direct Current (DC) which is what your car, flashlight, or portable radio runs on.  Since our offices all use AC or Alternating Current the DC power needs to be converted to AC through the use of an inverter.  Inverters have been very popular in motorhomes and in some boats for many years.  I even have a small one in my car that I use while traveling to keep my laptop charged.

When the sun goes down it is obvious that there is no power generation.  To compensate for this during the day time the solar panels charge storage batteries like those that are in your car.  These are connected to the inverter so during times of low or no sunlight you will still have electricity.

With the advances in solar cell technology even in low light conditions you can still get a fair amount of power generation.  But since the sun is generally available solar makes an ideal solution for disaster power generation.

Aside from not having any or enough sunlight there are three additional drawbacks with solar power that need to be pointed out.

First is the service life of the batteries.  Like those in a car you can expect three to five years of usage before they need to be replaced.  This is because of the effects of acid in the batteries on the lead plates which hold the charge.  The acid eats away at the lead eventually rendering the batteries useless in a few years.

Of course you will need a bank of batteries to give you any power for an extended period of time like overnight.  The size of this bank is determined by how much usage you plan on having.  Like in a small office you would not need too many batteries, but in a larger installation you could have a substantial battery bank.

As anyone who ever replaced the battery in their car can tell you that the battery can be very expensive.  Depending on the amount of batteries and their sizes in the battery bank this could run into the thousands of dollars every three to five years.

A battery room needs to be vented to eliminate the hydrogen gas
A battery room needs to be vented to eliminate the hydrogen gas

The next big drawback of using solar is that when lead acid batteries are being charged or discharged through use they give off hydrogen gas.  As we know from basic chemistry hydrogen is very explosive and needs to be handled carefully. We all remember what happened with the Hindenburg.  So where the batteries are stored needs very good ventilation and if they are kept in the main building and not in a separate ‘shed’ designed for the batteries, you need to be sure that none of the hydrogen gas can get into other rooms.  For the most part that is not too much of a problem.  All is needed is careful planning.

The third draw back I will address later in this article which actually applies to any form of power system you select for DR.

The second form of green power is gaining popularity with major utility companies, especially those in the mid-west and western states is wind power.  Using the wind is fairly simple and you need an area where the wind is blowing most if not all the time.  In some areas there is very limited wind so using it for power is almost useless.

The government has produced wind maps of the country which can help you decide if wind power is for you.

A wind turbine can be effective using prevailing winds.
A wind turbine can be effective using prevailing winds.

The wind turbine as it is called produces D/C power just like with solar and this is used to run battery chargers and set up a bank of batteries for the times that there is no wind.  And like with any battery system you will need an inverter or two to change the D/C to A/C for use.

D/C is not as efficient as A/C and long runs of cable can rob you of D/C power through resistance in the cable.  Depending on where you plan on setting up the turbine you might have to have the inverter installed into the turbine directly.  You may need to do this even with a solar system as well.

Before running out to have a wind turbine installed you will need to comply with various building regulations and in some areas the installation would be prohibited.  You might need to apply for a variance and go through all kinds of legal headaches.

There has been some controversy over using wind turbines.  First is the height of the tower to support the turbine which has to be at least 30’ above the tree tops and people can claim it as an eyesore and legal issues can crop up.  Two types of towers can be used to support the turbine.  One is self-supporting and those can be expensive.  The next one is supported with guy wires from the tower to the ground.  Room needs to be allocated for where the guy wires are anchored.  So you just might not have the space.  Next is the sound from the blades as they go through the air for it has been reported that the sound can be disturbing.

In very high winds like what is found in a tropical storm or hurricane can spin the blades so fast that they can explode, but this is very rare since the blades would turn in such a way to feather themselves as not to over spin.

A new issue that is cropping up is bird strikes.  It has been felt that birds do not see the blades and can fly into them thereby getting killed.  Animal rights activists could create other legal issues for you.

Regardless if you go with solar or wind power you need to plan how to wire the system into your building.  You may have to have a disconnect that will isolate your green power from the grid.  A long talk with an electrician and your utility company is definitely in order before you even buy the system.

As with anything there is a cost that needs to be considered and figured in.  This brings about several questions.  These questions will be pretty much the same regardless if you are deciding on green power or not.  This is the third drawback that I mentioned earlier.

First, how mission critical is it not to have power and how long can you be without it?

The answer to this is by examining your business model.  For some companies a few hours without power is all that they can tolerate while for other companies that would put a major strain on them and for others a few days or a week would be all they could tolerate.  Here a long talk with your accountants is in order.

Next how much power are you going to need in a disaster?  Again back to your business model.  Are you looking to run everything or just certain functions of the company like clerical or executive offices?  Of course one of the areas that should always be in the equation is your server / network infrastructure.  Another area that needs to be in the equation is security for both fire and intrusion.  If your security systems rely on telephone lines you need to be sure your telco system as power to cover those assets.

In the food industry refrigeration is always must to keep food fresh so that too needs to be figured in.

Most manufacturing plants most likely would not be able to take advantage of green power for disaster recovery, except the offices.  Some warehouses could potentially use green power.  I certainly would not expect to see a steel mill running on green power.

To determine your power requirement is relatively simple and requires only basic math.

Simply look at the labels on the equipment or owner’s manuals of the items you need to keep powered and find the wattage.  Just add them together to determine how much power you are going to need while the main power lines are down.  Mind you these figures are going to be for items turned on simultaneously.

Let’s say you determine that you need 8,000 watts or 8 Kw.  You might be able to get away with an 8.5Kw power system but to be prudent and for a margin of safety a 10Kw system would be best.  This way if something is turned on that you did not calculate for or if an item is drawing more than it should you will have a safety cushion.

What if wattage is not posted on the item or in the manual?

A lot of times amperage will be listed instead.  Using the simple formula:

Amperage x Voltage = Wattage

You can determine the wattage of the device.

As an example you have a computer that draws or needs 5 amps or 5A.  The standard electrical outlet in the United States provides 120 Volts or 120VAC.  From here we can determine the wattage by plugging in ( bad pun ) the appropriate numbers.

5A x 120Vac = 600 watts

Now all we need to do is add that to all of our other wattages to determine what size power system we need.

From there it is time to shop around to see what is available.  The prices will astonish you so be prepared for sticker shock.  Although green power provides free electricity, the initial costs can be quite steep where you will need to question the return on investment or ROI.  Again this will all depend on how much you stand to lose when the power goes out.

Let’s use my house as an example since I am currently working out of it.  I live on Long Island where we pay some of the highest electric rates in the country.  My average electric bill is $250 a month which obviously is $3,000 a year.  I would need a 10Kw power system to keep my house operating.  From here let’s look at Solar and Wind power.

Home Depot has a 10Kw solar power system for about $22,000 plus installation.  Not adding in any finance charges it would take a little over nine years to pay off the system provided that it is being used to power my house all the time instead of emergency power which in that case it would take a lot longer to see any ROI.

Going to the Bergey website who manufactures wind turbines for home and businesses I came up with a price for a 10Kw wind turbine producing 220 Vac, a 100 foot tower and wire kit.  The price for this not including installation, any options or legal fees was $50,180 which just increased the time for me to see a ROI significantly.

Has a home user it really does not pay for me to go green.  But for a larger business it just might.

You need to review the idea of going green with various members of your team
You need to review the idea of going green with various members of your team first

Depending on how much you stand to lose each day without power it might pay to install a green power system for disaster recovery and business continuity.  This is where you need to sit down with your accountants, the utility company, your lawyers, your insurance company and if you lease your building, your landlord.  Some utility companies may offer incentives to go green and you just might qualify for a tax break which could help offset the initial costs.  After getting everyone’s take on the situation then you can decide to move forward with green power for DR or table the idea.

Even with the costs, the complexity and hassle of going green for DR could pay big dividends down the road in an emergency and keep your business afloat while others drown.


Photos – Generac


(c)William Lewis

Facebook To The Rescue

In an earlier article I addressed that one of the most crucial aspects of a disaster recovery plan is communications.  Communications as a whole is so vital most any solder can tell you the lack of effective communications can mean losing a battle.  Granted we are not at war within the borders of the United States but in a disaster the effect can be the same when it comes to safety.

Today a lot of people use some form of smart phone like the i-Phone or one of the Androids.    These phones can not only provide telephone communications, but email, text messages and have the ability to surf the web.  You see them everywhere you go.  All of which can play an important part in disaster recovery or DR.

Social media can play an important part in your DR communications

Facebook to the rescue in DR
Facebook to the rescue in DR

efforts.  On the web exists possibly the most popular social media website known and is growing like a weed.  If you haven’t guessed, it is Facebook.

One of the problems with Facebook is that people can and do post photos and sayings that are from questionable to borderline pornographic.  If an employee in your company is viewing something like that at work, you could stand a good chance of having a sexual harassment complaint and law suit filed against your company.

At the same time Facebook can be a great marketing and communications tool as well.  As for marketing on Facebook, that will remain as another matter for a later article.  We are going to address Facebook as a communications tool in DR.

To use Facebook as such is really child’s play.  You need to create an account with a “person’s name”.  In this case we will use Paula Personnel and for our purposes it will be the human resources department who handles the page.

Paula has all the employees added as friends so only they and no one else can see what is written on the timeline.  Personnel, or whoever is in charge of posting logs in as Paula using her email address and password and posts everything for the employees, errr ‘friends’ only.  All the public would see is the profile picture and top banner.  For added security those pictures can be of say a cute puppy and appear to have nothing to do with your business, if you desire.

In the event of a disaster or major storm the employees are instructed to routinely check the Facebook page for any updates.  And like I mentioned in the beginning with today’s smart phones that would not be much of a problem, provided they can access the internet.

I need to caution you that you make sure whatever you post is set for your “friends” list only.  Potential criminals could use that for their own advantage.  Or worse yet, the media.  So be very careful before you hit the ‘post’ button.

Twitter can also play a role in DR
Twitter can also play a role in DR

Twitter can have a minor role in DR communications as well.  But the big problem here is that when you send out a Tweet, everyone and I mean everyone can read it.  So what needs to be done is use that in conjunction with Facebook.

First Paula Personnel sets up a Twitter account.  Now all of the employees will have Twitter accounts and be followers of Paula.  In the event of a disaster or storm, Paula Tweets a cryptic message something like, “My Peeps come home”.  That could signify the employees to go to the Facebook page for any information.  But whatever is Tweeted must be very, very carefully written before it is sent out.

Social media can play an important role in DR communications if used properly and should be another tool in your arsenal.


Communications For Disaster Recovery

One of the most crucial aspects of any disaster recovery plan has to be communications. Without a reliable communications strategy in place all of the disaster recovery planning and efforts are seriously hampered. Any solder can tell you without reliable communications you can lose the battle.

To ensure that you have adequate and reliable communications you should consider various options and have at least two forms available.

First most companies use what is known as a PRI which is their primary form of communicating. This is a business grade telephone line and can carry several phone calls simultaneously. The PRI is a digital circuit and

The CO handles the land line communications for a town
The CO handles the land line communications for a town

requires the proper equipment to use it which is very common place in many businesses. In larger companies they would have several PRI’s in place just to handle the call volume. In some aspects that alone can be part of a DR plan. One of the big down falls of a PRI is that regardless of who your provider is the “last mile” generally is your local phone company. This connection will originate at a location in or near your town known as the central office or “CO”. Even if you have multiple PRI’s chances are that they will all originate from the same CO and most likely run along the same telephone poles.

What if the PRI goes down altogether or the CO is rendered inoperable, now what? A lot of place still use fax machines and most likely those are on what is known as POTs lines. Unlike the PRI the POTs line is old fashioned analog. A lot of fax machines also have handsets so in an emergency you can use that for communication. But these too can originate from the same CO and would use the same poles.

Hence there is a weak link right there.

One company I know of had their PRI fail when someone in the CO accidentally disconnected the service. They where down for three days while the phone company worked on the problem but they still had the fax machines to call out on. But the executives did not like that idea of talking on a fax machine so they relied on the next option.

Everywhere we go we see people on cell phones. These can and should be a part of your DRP. Although they are pretty reliable these too have drawbacks.

A cell phone can be an alternative form of communications
A cell phone can be an alternative form of communications

Not considering usage limits from one plan to another, cell phones do have a limited range and the area you are in might have sketchy to no coverage. As an example in my own town in most of it I get great cell coverage but in another section the coverage is poor at best.

Should a cell tower go down as what happened in many areas of Long Island and in New Jersey due to a lack of power from hurricane Sandy in 2012, the cell phones became useless. The were expensive paperweights. That storm not only took out cell coverage but many land-line phones where affected as well when trees fell on wires.

Many times the cell towers can become overloaded with calls and again the cell phone is becomes useless. This happened when the New York Metro area and surrounding areas were hit with an earth tremor in 2011.

Another form of communication you can add to your DRP are satellite phones. These are still costly but not too far out of reach and can make an ideal addition. Unlike PRI’s, fax lines and cell phones satellite phones

A satellite phone does not require cell towers
A satellite phone does not require cell towers

do not rely on traditional systems at least on one end of the communications side. A very big plus for these for the most part is that the range is almost unlimited with the one exception.

Aside from the cost being one of the drawbacks with satellite phones is if a satellite is not in optimum position you might not get reliable communications for a short period of time. This is slowly being rectified as more satellites are put into orbit. But when the satellite is in position, then the range is unlimited.

When you call out on a satellite phone, the signal is picked up by an orbiting satellite, then bounced to a receiving station then it goes over traditional land lines to the destination. Here lies the second issue, what if the destination so happens to be in the same area where the disaster is located and has been affected by it as well?

Some people may consider using is the good old CB Radio. These have very limited range, are subject to outside interference, and generally are not monitored by the authorities. To use a CB no license is required. The FCC eliminated that years ago which gave birth to a problem and that is everyone and their neighbors can be on the air jamming up the airwaves with useless chatter. And depending on where you are located, truckers use the CB as a way of communicating with each other.

Another form of DR communications you might want to look into is actually very old and predates the internet, cell and satellite phones. That is amateur or HAM radio.

First thing that probably pops into you head when you hear HAM radio is a room filled with complex radios, oscilloscopes, someone using a Morse code key and head phones. In some extreme aspects this is not far from the truth but that really holds true for someone who is very advanced into the hobby. But let the truth be known you can obtain a HAM radio

HAM radio can be daunting
HAM radio can be daunting

that is a walkie talkie and get great coverage.

HAM radio does require that you obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission “FCC” and that can deter someone from going forward. One of the things that can scare people off is having to know Morse Code. A few short years ago you were required to know Morse at a set speed. That is no longer a requirement in most levels of license.

What you do need to know is some radio and electronic theory which is not too hard to master. The American Radio Relay League or “ARRL”

HAM radios can be as simple as a walkie-talkie
HAM radios can be as simple as a walkie-talkie

holds classes for the public so you should look into them as a resource. I took an on-line self-assessment test in how I would fair in taking the test and I got an 80 without picking up a book. In all fairness being involved in computers on the technical level did give me a slight advantage.

At least with a HAM radio available you have the ability to reach out to another HAM radio for assistance. Some hospitals and police departments are using HAM radio as back up communications but check in your area to see if they do have HAM radio.

One thing that needs to be pointed out that whatever you say on any radio can be listened to by other people so discretion in what you say is strongly advised. Even cell phone calls can be intercepted by someone using a programmable radio scanner.

As long as we are on the subject of two way radios, one more can be considered but has some drawbacks and that is shortwave radio. Instead of being able to communicate a few miles, you can reach people around the world. Like HAM radio, you are required to have a license and the station needs a license. Shortwave radio sets are expensive as well and have certain installation requirements.

Social media for DR communications?
Social media for DR communications?

Another thing that you might have thought of is right under your nose, but it does require extreme caution in how you use it and that is social media. Social media can be used for internal communications with your staff provided you take precautions to make sure that only they can see it. I will address that in my next article.

Plus if you lose your internet connectivity for one reason or another using social media becomes a mute cause.

And naturally this all of this depends on the availability of having electricity. During Sandy a lot of areas were without power for weeks into months. So whatever your DR communications plans are, you need to have some form of backup power either through batteries or generator. In a later article, I am going to address that exact issue so check back regularly.

These are just some of the options that you can use in a disaster for communications and should be added to your arsenal of tools.

Paperless Office for Disaster Recovery

What does hurricanes Andrew in 1992, Charlie and Frances in 2004, Katrina and Wilma and Ivan and Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have in common?  And what about the EF-5 tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011?  And let’s not forget the wild fires in California?  What do all of these have in common?

In each and every single one of them countless businesses were either washed, blown away or burned down forever.  Many of the businesses might have recovered if they had a proper Disaster Recovery Plan in place.  Granted in 1999 – 2005 Disaster Recovery Plans (or DRP) might have been nothing more but a pipe dream or obscure term for most while in later years some businesses started to adopt them.  Those that did stood a better chance of recovering.

A paperless office solution not only can reduce the amount of paper that you print, but can be an integral part of your DRP.  With the advent and new changes in technology part of any DRP should include some form of hosted paperless office.

Imagine losing your mission critical documents
Imagine losing your mission critical documents

In the event of a disaster where your building is inaccessible, damaged or destroyed, all of your paper documents will become useless.  As you can imagine that alone can put you out of business.  By making your printouts as electronic documents and placing them onto a secure hosted location on the internet using a paperless office solution can help bring your business back from a disaster quickly.  All you need to do is access your electronic documents any time, any place with an internet connection.

Paperless offices can handle most any type of electronic document like PDF’s, spreadsheets, word processing documents, AutoCad drawings, photographs and graphics and more.  Adding physical paper to the paperless office is as simple as scanning them into the solution and directing them into the appropriate categories.  Most copiers today have scanning capabilities built into them already that allow you to scan to a location on a server or PC as a .PDF, .JPG or .TIFF.  And many will also OCR the PDF’s for you as well.  From there all you need to do is migrate them into your paperless office.

Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office
Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office

By being very diligent in creating and storing your documents electronically, especially mission critical ones the destruction of your building will become more of an inconvenience than anything else.  OK, granted it would be a major headache and inconvenience but at least you potentially would not be out of business and have a greater chance of recovery.

What types of documents could you consider as mission critical that you need for recovery in the event of a disaster?

  • Copies of leases
  • Insurance papers
  • Bank and credit statements
  • Receipts and packing slips from vendors
  • Invoices
  • Physical inventories sheets
  • Deposit slip receipts
  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Job applications
  • Employee records
  • In essence, anything on paper

With a hosted paperless office solution the provider can customize the paperless solution to fit your business structure including showing you how to limit who can access what documents.  As an example you certainly would not want a routine clerk having access to payroll information so various levels of security can be set up.  You would need to check with the solution provider about setting this up.

Who can benefit from setting up a paperless office solution?  Everyone.  There is no business to small or too large that cannot benefit from some form of paperless office.  Especially for disaster recovery.  And you do not need to go insane and make everything paperless.  Just start with the most critical documents and move onto others.

As a homeowner or renter you too can benefit from this as well using the same scanning technology only on a smaller scale.  From here the home owner or renter can scan all of their documents and save them into a hosted paperless office just like any business in the event their home is destroyed.

Granted a paperless office solution will not eliminate all of your paper but with proper use a paperless office solution can reduce your paper flows and it can help save your business in the event of a disaster.  You just may even qualify for an insurance break for having a DRP and especially one with a hosted paperless office solution.  But check with your broker.

Redundant Internet Connections For Disaster Recovery

A lot of businesses today rely on the internet for commerce in one form or another.  Regardless it is email, on-line applications, research or ordering the internet is the life blood for many companies.  Losing that connectivity can potentially cost millions of dollars depending on the type of business.

Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headache
Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headach

Most companies will have only one internet connection, hence a single point of failure.  In order to prevent that it is wise to have a second internet connection from a different Internet Service Provider (“ISP”).

What a lot of people do not realize is even if you have a second ISP, the internet connection could potentially be supplied from the same Central Office (“CO”).  If the CO has problems then you could lose both connections.

Part of this is because most places use good old fashioned copper wires from the pole to the building to supply connectivity.  Regardless of what ISP you select, the very last mile, that is from the CO to your building runs along lines owned by Verizon.  And what now have is the single point of failure once again.

That is why when you select a secondary ISP, it pays to find out where their CO is located.

Some places will have cable connectivity like CableVision here on Long Island.  They use a totally different CO and they own the copper from along the whole stretch thereby taking Verizon out of the loop for one connection.

Other places could even have a fiberoptic connection which eliminates copper altogether and like the cable will originate from a different CO.  The fiber could also be from another provider which again takes Verizon out of the loop.

Typical fiber optic cable
Typical fiber optic cable

With the way that fiber has come down in costs and the speeds far exceed what can be obtained on copper, it pays to look into having fiber as your primary connection and copper as your secondary connection.  This way if one should fail, you will still have the other to work from.

Generally how this is accomplished is that both connections are brought into the same room.  From there they are connected to the same firewall which is configured to accept both.  Most firewalls today will have a failover built into them so if your primary line goes down the secondary takes over instantly and seamlessly.  No one would ever know.  From the firewall the connection is now connected to the network where everyone works.

Using two ISPs for redundancy
Using two ISPs for redundancy

A lot of times the firewall will also do what is called ‘load balancing.’  That is split the traffic among both connections so one does not have a bottle neck.

Some companies will even go as far as having a third connection should they lose the first two.  This can also be copper of fiber from another provider.  Some places will use a broadband connection similar to cell phones using a device where 3G or 4G modems are connected to.  This is good in case a tree or accident takes down a pole outside.  Problem with that is the costs can be very high and you would not get the same amount throughput as you would with copper or fiber.  And like cell phones you might not get good reception.

A device that I used is known as CradlePoint.  It takes three broadband modems connected to it by USB cables then to the firewall.  In testing I pulled both the primary and secondary internet connections and just left the CradlePoint connected.  No one in the office of 55 ever knew the difference.

CradlePoint router
CradlePoint router

A major issue does arise with multiple internet connections and that is if you have your own email server like Exchange, should your primary internet connection fails then you could risk the possibility of not having email at all.  Here is where you would need to discuss with your internet providers to establish what is known as BGP to ensure that your email will work regardless of what internet connection is working.

In summary, if your business relies on the internet then you should truly consider having a second connection through a second ISP.  It makes good business sense.

Make Your Own Paperless Office?

I have been asked this question several times:

“Can I make my own paperless office solution instead of buying one?”

I can see why this question is asked.  If you make one it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.  Fairly understandable reasons for building one that cannot be argued with.

Well the answer to the question is a surprising ‘Yes’ you can make your own paperless office solution.

First you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL, FileMaker Pro, MS Access, Oracle or SAP.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access and FileMaker Pro standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle and SAP.

Next unless you are up to the task you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC if you want to use a web browser unless the person who does the database work knows html.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.  Plus depending on the type of paperless office you are planning on building, knowing ASP, JAVA, XML and some other languages may prove useful.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database in general and the particular DBMS first.  Plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well, plus the other languages I spoke about but that can be optional as most DBMS’s can create a front end.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering the databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your paper documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.  These become .pdf, .tiff or .jpg files which you can scan into a directory on your computer then where you can now move them into the paperless office solution.

With the pdf files, you can OCR them, that is run an Optical Character Recognition utility on them to make them searchable.

Of course when you create the documents in the first place, as in Word, Excel or any number of programs, they are already in an electronic format so it is a very simple matter to move them into the paperless office.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

But if time is one thing that you are in short supply on, then you might want to look at a cloud provider that can build and host one for you.  There are plenty of advantages of having a hosted paperless office over having one that you build.

First all upgrades and software licensing is the responsibility of the provider as well as backing up the data.  A hosted paperless office is or at least should be available to you via an internet connecting regardless of where you are especially in the event of a major disaster.

If you elect to build your own paperless office, you bear the responsibility of software upgrades, upgrades to the solution, license fees if any, and tech support.  Plus if you build your own most likely you will host it internally.  If so then if your building is destroyed or damaged you just might not be able to gain access to the data.  But you can save money on monthly and setup fees plus you remain in total control over your data.

So can you build your own paperless office? Yes.  Do you want to?  Well that depends on you and your situation.  You just might decide that instead of adding another potential headache to your plate then you just might be better off to go with a hosted solution instead.