What If My Network Goes Down?

Posted by Rick Mathewson

4/20/15 11:26 AM

Schools are steadily migrating away from analog, hard-wired paging and intercom systems to a more advanced network-based architecture like FrontRow Conductor. But there are still some who wonder about the reliability of a network-based system vs. an old analog fixed-wire system. Similar discussions occurred when the telephone systems migrated from the old analog punch-down system to today’s voice-over-IP telephone systems.

What if my network goes down?

Before we can answer the question above, we must first define what it means when someone says “the network is down!” It is not uncommon for a teacher (or anyone else) to say that the network is down when they lose Internet connection, they are unable to send email, the wireless system is not working, they are having difficulty printing, etc. Each of these is an annoyance but does not mean that the network is down. What has actually occurred is that part of the network is no longer working properly.

A properly-designed and -implemented Conductor system does not stop working if any of the above scenarios occurs. Here's why:

  1. FrontRow Conductor does not need the Internet to function
  2. Conductor does not need email access to function
  3. Conductor ordinarily uses a LAN cable backbone (not subject to wireless interruptions)
  4. It is a good design practice to give Conductor a separate VLAN, which allows the Conductor system to be immune to excessive network clutter (the primary cause for a slow network)
  5. In addition, because the Conductor system and its devices typically use static IP addresses there is built-in immunity to a DHCP server failing or going offline.

So, what we are really left with is that a total network system failure would be required to cause the Conductor system to stop working. But, in reality that is a very rare occurrence. Networks are extremely reliable, with uptime typically pushing 100%. In fact most IT departments are very proud of their network uptime records.

Another way to ask the question is “what is your school's network uptime vs how long would an analog system be down should it fail?” A network problem is almost always addressed immediately and by many people who know how to support a network. On the other hand, it can be very difficult to find technical support for an analog system (even a new one!) Just try to find someone who knows how an analog phone system works.

What if the school loses power?

If a school loses power, the primary methods to get keep critical systems running are: emergency generators, strategically placed UPS systems, or both.

Ideally, you should have strategically-placed UPS systems so the mission-critical components of the Conductor system remain online in a power outage. These systems would include: the DRS5000 server, any network switches necessary to keep the Conductor system connected, the admin station, and CM3000. In addition, the network switches should be able to provide POE to the classrooms which would keep the classrooms online, if properly equipped with our POE extractors. Consult local codes and your district policies to determine how long the UPS systems need to keep the Conductor system online.

If you just have a backup generator, the Conductor system (and in fact any system) will come back online when power is restored. If the DRS5000 server has not been set to auto power on, it would need to be physically powered up. There are some generators that will turn on immediately while others will wait for some pre-set amount of time before providing power. If a generator takes a significant amount of time to come online then this would be the scenario in which a mixture of generator and UPS devices would be used.

If you have any questions about planning your own Conductor implementation, just ask!

Topics: Integrated communications, Networked PA, bells and intercom