Heavy snow fall across Britain has highlighted weaknesses in UK’s digital infrastructure planning, just as clearly as it revealed the failure of the country’s physical infrastructure to cope.
The snow brought chaos to roads, railways and airports, closing thousands of schools and businesses. London's almost entire bus network was suspended and 10 of the 11 underground lines were either down or part suspended.
But the heaviest snow fall in 18 years has also shown how IT systems can help keep organisations functioning in a crisis.
A number of travel websites, including Transport for London (TfL), crashed yesterday as commuters logged on for travel information. National Rail Enquiries told the BBC that website enquiries were up 800 percent compared to a normal Monday morning. At its height, more than 32,000 users were visiting every second.
Mobile phone networks also struggled with the volume of calls. T-Mobile reported 73 percent more calls and 21 percent more texts than usual, while demand for broadband was up 20 percent as people worked from home.
The Federation of Small Businesses estimated that one in five workers failed to get to work, on Monday, at a cost of £1.2 billion.
But software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing providers took the opportunity to beat the drum about the versatility of their offerings.
Rob Lovell, CEO of ThinkGrid, said: "When snow falls from the clouds, businesses should look to the cloud to keep productivity up. By giving employees hosted desktops and phones that can be accessed from anywhere in the world, organisations can ensure that workers are able to continue to keep working as normal even though they can't get to the office.
Legal firm Tayler Wessing made good use of Mimecast’s cloud-based email management technologies.
Tim Hyman, head of IT operations at Tyler Wessing, said: "One lawyer was in a hotel room and could not get his laptop to work through the hotel firewall and there was no blackberry GPRS coverage. He accessed the Mimecast portal from the TV in his hotel room."
Hyman said Mimecast's SaaS product offers Tyler Wessing the combination of email security with business continuity for "always-on email" in a single system. "The Mimecast service enabled us to continue to communicate by email even in power outages or server downtime – whether planned or unexpected."
Other SaaS vendors echoed the point. Charles Black, CEO of Nasstar said, “Businesses that have a hosted desktop environment will remain completely unaffected by the weather conditions and can carry on business as usual despite the snow. By adopting cost effective pay-as-you-go computing, organisations can ensure they can keep working in any kind of weather or emergency.”
While security vendor BeCrypt was keen to emphasise that potential security threats caused by remote working could be overcome. “Even staff that have not been issued with a company laptop or PDA could have been safely and productively working from home.
“Had staff been issued with a low cost USB device carrying a BeCrypt Trusted Client they would have had a secure way to access their corporate network from an unmanaged PC, such as a home PC.”
The BeCrypt technology does not access the host hard drive, only the PC's memory and processor are used. Any data that is downloaded is automatically encrypted to the device and because it's delivered on a USB stick it is highly portable and low cost.
News home page photo credit David Merrigan