Redundant Internet Connection

Yesterday morning I woke to find I had no internet connection! I'll spare you the details of what happened next, but, in short it took 28 hours for it to come back; 24 waiting for an engineer to visit and then 4 for him to fix it. Those 28 hours gave me time to think about how I could prevent it happening again.

I don't want to come across like I'm caught up in my own self-importance, but it's important I have a reliable and "constant" connection. Outages of >24 hours just aren't acceptable -- either for me or my customers, who pay me to support their systems. Without a connection to the internet I'd struggle to offer support. Not to mention I'd be unable to work and earn money (to a degree).

As a temporary measure I got by using 3G. Both on my phone and with the data SIM in my newly-acquired Tablet. This was good enough for emailing and general browsing but not for use in my day-to-day work.


On Twitter I did my usual moaning and in reply @mattwhite mentioned he'd got both a BT ADSL line as well as Virgin's cable broadband service, because he too just has to have a connection.

The cost of having a redundant broadband connection is insignificant when compared to the cost of having no connection at all. Not just in terms of lost earnings but also the cost of a damaged reputation ("That Rockall Design company can't even stay connected to the internet!").

While I was waiting for the BT engineer to "fix the fibre" I went ahead and ordered a new connection to Virgin Media's cable-based internet service.

Over the last few months I've been block-paving all around the house. We've had 3 or 4 lorries back down the road and offload tonnes of hardcore using a crane which came within inches of the overhead copper BT phoneline, while I stood looking on nervously.

As Virgin's cable is buried underground, right up to the house, it can't be brought down by acts of God/stupidity like the BT line could.

It always scares me to think how fragile my connection to the net is. The other week I walked past our nearest "exchange" box (those green boxes you see around on street corners) and the door to it was flapping open exposing all the cables within. All it would take is a mindless act of vandalism to take the whole neighbourhood down.

My router allows for two WAN connections and offers automatic failover (I think). In theory it will failover to this new backup connection without me needing to do anything.


Is there still a single point of failure? Is there anything that could bring both connections down at once? As I understand it each line will leave the house and go to separate boxes (owned and managed in turn by the two separate companies).


    • avatar
    • Aaron Hardin
    • Thu 25 Jul 2013 09:16 AM

    You're router could die lol

    Sounds like you're covering yourself really well. I have a cable connection but also a Mifi card, so if one goes down I connect to the other. But I like your route much better.

    I'm at our plant in Mexico this week, and the connection drops OFTEN!!!! This week I completely understand your frustration with a faulty connection.

      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Thu 25 Jul 2013 09:17 AM

      Got a spare router (bnib) in the cupboard behind me :-)

  1. Loss of your house power will take you down, once any UPS that powers the router(s) dies.


      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Thu 25 Jul 2013 09:20 AM

      Hmm. Good point. Assuming the neighbours down lose power I have a long extension cable.

      Maybe I need to buy a diesel-powered generator... although, really, I can't remember the last time we lost power (hope I don't regret saying that).

  2. No cafe around the corner with free wi-fi? That's sort of my back up plan but I haven't had the same requirements as you in that regard for the past 4 years. Certainly a sandwich and cup of tea is cheaper than redundant cable service... that said, sounds like you should ditch BT as your primary if you can do without it.

      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Thu 25 Jul 2013 11:03 AM

      I'm only ever at my most productive when at my desk with my big monitor and full-size keyboard and mouse. I could work on a laptop from anywhere in theory. In practice I find it doesn't work well.

      Show the rest of this thread

    • avatar
    • Timothy Briley
    • Thu 25 Jul 2013 12:15 PM

    Here in Mobile, AL, we have 4G with AT&T. With AT&T I have a plan that allows me to use my Galaxy S3 as a hotspot. Being GSM, I can use the phone while still using it as a hotspot. Frankly it is as fast as our wired connection from Comcast (cable).

    So if you ever get 4G where you live, that should be fast enough for you to ditch Virgin.

    • avatar
    • Dave Goodchild
    • Thu 25 Jul 2013 02:07 PM

    I had the same choice when we moved our office into a converted garage next to the house (thanks for your advice on phones by the way). I have Virgin Media in the house but went with BT for the office, mainly for redundancy but also to separate the office and home use as I like to feel in control of the billing and usage etc for work. I'm not sure that last one is a good reason as it costs me more to do that! But it feels more structured and should (?) have a better support response.

    I have a long network cable and second wireless point so I can switch if needed i.e. extend the home wireless (and in fact worked like that as it took BT an eon to install the phone and then the internet lines). However I'm pleased now with that redundancy and knowing I can download stuff or use a couple of VPN connections without harming the download speeds for the house.

    For real emergencies I have a virgin mobile dongle - slow but I've only had to use it a couple of times (once in a traffic jam to carry on working!).

    Have been happy with Virgin although the speeds went sticky when they did their upgrade a while ago - but went back to normal after a small while.

    Good luck!

      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Thu 25 Jul 2013 04:10 PM

      At one point we had two BT lines. One home, one office. But the home line got the chop in a cost-cutting exercise in our annus horriblis a few years back. Got to say we've not missed having a landline in the house at all. Definitely not missed all the cold calls we used to get.

  3. Jake

    My only thought about this setup, is how do you know if it fails over, make sure you know when its failed, or you may find one day that both links have failed!

      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Fri 26 Jul 2013 08:41 AM

      Good point. Don't know. I wonder if I can configure my router to tell me...

      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Fri 26 Jul 2013 01:53 PM
  4. Your router can also use a 3G/4G modem plugged in one of the USB ports.

  5. Somebody nicked the green door of my local box a few years ago. Its on a main road, thousands of folks walking past and it was completely open to the elements. At least 3 calls to BT failed to fix it over 3 months. My third call was to tell em the missing door was sitting in the canal around the corner. They could just fish it out. After 3 months they tie-wrapped an open 'barrier' type stand in front of the box. I could still wreak havoc with a pair of wire cutters and so could anybody else! 6 months later that, they replaced the box. On every call, I was told its not my problem as they couldn't tie the issue to my account on their suport system, so nobody ever called me. When I said its has 2 analogue lines, my broadband and 4 ISDN lines going thru it they just laughed. Maybe the 'electric shock' stickers keep the public away!

      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Thu 1 Aug 2013 08:06 AM

      Somebody nicked the door?!

      Show the rest of this thread

    • avatar
    • IanB
    • Sat 3 Aug 2013 12:10 PM

    Sounds the right way to go about it.

    In the last job I had, I argued the stupidity of having two BT lines for redundancy.

    You have two providers, two paths in and a spare router so, barring a power cut, you're fine and as with anything like this you have to know how far to take things.

    If you can also add in a 3G/4G card then you've gone as far as can be called reasonable to ensure your business continuity.

    I don't know enough about the Draytek to say whether it does or doesn't, but check that it can be configured for load balancing and resilience if one goes down. Many routers I've seen, for some reason, are configured for one <b>or</b> the other and I see that the site says "The multiple WAN interfaces can be used either for WAN-Backup or load balancing"

    As a tight yorkshireman, having one line sitting around unused makes me shudder - if it's not automatic switching between the two then I'd recommend you configure for load balancing and manually reconfigure if a line goes down (I'm assuming instant switching isn't critical?).

    But I've heard good things about the draytek, so hopefully it's plug and forget.

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