Yeah, but what happens if the internet goes down?

It’s no secret that at Alcan we are anti-servers. Or more accurately, pro-cloud based solutions. The speed of deployment, reliability, and cost savings of working with cloud-based solutions cannot be disputed. When someone insists on sticking with an in-office server, I reminisce about my time at Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 150 company and one that up until recently, ran $25 billion in revenue off of a mainframe with a DOS prompt, which was affectionately referred to as “The Dark Side”. When I tell people that one of the largest companies in North America was operating off of technology developed in the 60’s, people can’t believe it. But when I talk to dentists about eliminating servers from their office, suddenly they look at me like I have a third eyeball.    

The truth is that the dental industry lags far behind other medical industries from a software and technology standpoint.  We are finally getting our due with some incredible cloud-based solutions for operating an efficient practice. I’ll discuss those in future articles, but for the purpose of this article, I want to address the #1 question I get asked when we discuss moving away from servers and towards cloud-based technologies: what happens if the internet goes down?

It's a valid question. After all, the internet is a utility at this point, just like water and power. This isn’t the 90s anymore. The advent of new technologies in just the past few years has changed the landscape for cloud-based solutions. Realistically, an internet outage is much easier to solve than a power outage or a water main break, as long as you have a plan in place. It’s also important to remember that statistically the power goes out far more often than the internet, so there is already an inherently high degree of reliability in cloud-based systems.

However, we do want to acknowledge that failing to plan is planning to fail.

So what options are out there?

1. Mobile Hotspot/Tethering: Most smartphones have a feature that allows them to act as a mobile hotspot. This means you can use your mobile data connection to create a Wi-Fi network that your computer and other devices can connect to. Be mindful of data usage and costs, though, as this can consume your mobile data allowance quickly. This is also spotty at best and doesn’t have the necessary bandwidth to operate the entire office on, so we only use this method as a backup to our backup.  

2. Dedicated Mobile Broadband: This involves using a dedicated mobile broadband device, like a dongle or a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, which uses a SIM card and connects to the cellular network. These devices can offer a more reliable connection than tethering to a smartphone and are ideal for users needing a backup internet connection for their laptops or tablets while on the go.  In recent years, with the advent of 5G, these have actually become a viable alternative to wired internet connections.  The main caveat with these is some areas of town have much better service than others, so this option needs to be tested at the location where it is serving as a backup.  

3. Satellite Internet(Starlink): If you're in a remote area where other forms of internet are unreliable or unavailable, satellite internet can be a good backup. It tends to be more expensive and has higher latency than terrestrial broadband, but it's widely available and very easy to deploy.

4. Fiber Optic Backup: Some businesses and individuals who require extremely reliable internet connections may opt for a secondary, redundant fiber optic line from a different provider. This is extremely expensive and not always available but offers the highest level of reliability.

5. DSL/Cable as Backup: If you primarily use a fiber optic connection, having a DSL or cable internet connection as a backup can be a sensible option. While slower, these technologies are widely available and can provide a decent alternative in case of fiber outage.

6. Mesh Network with Cellular Backup: Some mesh Wi-Fi systems offer a cellular data backup option. This can automatically switch your home network to a cellular connection if your broadband service goes down.  

7. Failover Router: A failover router can automatically switch between multiple internet connections, such as between a primary broadband line and a mobile broadband or secondary DSL/cable line, ensuring you stay online without manual intervention.

8. Steal internet from your neighbors. Just kidding. Don’t do this. Not at your practice at least.  

Each of these options has its advantages and considerations, such as cost, speed, availability, and ease of use. The best choice depends on your specific needs, location, and budget.

For the money and reliability, Starlink and TMobile are the preferred solutions that Alcan Dental Cooperative deploys for emergency internet backup at our locations. “It is reliable, the speed supports video conferencing, business operations and customer web access. In the rare event that we experience an outage from our local provider- we don’t miss a beat. The fact that we can pause service and deploy when needed saves money.  We also can leverage Starlink when our mobile unit for community outreach is in operation” said Dr Alex Otto.

As mentioned earlier, having a plan in place is key. The time to figure out if your backup works is not when you have 4 patients in chair and another 4 in the waiting room. Coordinate with your IT professional. Test and then retest the system. If manual intervention is required, make sure your team knows who is supposed to do what and how to do it. Finally, be objective and realistic about whether or not you even need backup. One of our locations has terrible internet (by terrible I mean it’s gone out three times in the last 5 years). Another location has never once had an outage. Make an honest assessment and calculate the risk/reward based on your individual practice, not what an IT company is telling you to do.  

Oh and by the way, now may be a good time to clean out all the junk that you have been stockpiling in the IT closet for the past 10 years. . .