I have written several times about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone systems and their future prospects. I ripped out my old-fashioned telephone several years ago because of the high phone bills. Now I have two phones: a cell phone and a VoIP phone that connects through the Internet. I have been very pleased with the results but an incident this week shows that perhaps VoIP isn't ready for prime time usage just yet.
I have mentioned Ooma a couple of times. This cloud-based VoIP service is a bit expensive to purchase. However, once installed and running, Ooma provides unlimited free telephone calls to all U.S. phones and low-cost calls to any other phones worldwide. For many high-usage phone users, Ooma is a very cost-effective service.
This week, Ooma suffered a system outage. Everything. All Ooma phones were down. Want support? You couldn't call Ooma's customer service department as the company uses its own product for telephone calls (naturally!) and all Ooma phone lines were down. Want to send an email message or check the company's web site for status information? Well, Ooma's email services and web servers also run on Ooma's network, which was down. Ooma was incommunicado.
There are many VoIP service to choose from and I cannot use all of them. I am not an Ooma customer and my VoIP phone service from another company continued as normal. However, Ooma customers could not make or receive calls.
Ooma services were interrupted by a power failure at the company's data center in Palo Alto, California. The outage lasted for about three hours and all services have since been restored to normal operation. The company states that the disruption of services was an extremely rare event, and that steps are being taken to assure that similar disruptions do not occur in the future.
Ooma managers have now announced there is a plan in place to build a second data center on the east coast in order to provide redundancy. That plan was implemented before the recent outage but will require several months to complete. Once operational, the odds of future system outages created by a single power failure will be significantly reduced. However, I will point out that hardware and software are never perfect. Future problems are always possible in any system, even those with lots of redundancy.
The Ooma outage strikes me as "no big deal." After all, when I did have an old-fashioned telephone line, I suffered phone outages longer than three hours a number of times. However, those were typically local events caused by bad weather or falling tree limbs or the occasional farmer cutting an underground cable while plowing a field with his tractor. I don't remember any nationwide system outages although there were a number of outages that affected several states at once.
Just like the Ooma user, I found that my cell phone always worked when the regular phones didn't work and vice versa. I never was left with no communications but that is because I provided the redundancy by having two separate, independent phone services. That "solution" works well but is expensive.
So, is Ooma still a viable service? I think so. However, I also suggest that every phone service will have occasional hiccups. Ooma had this recent outage, Skype had an outage a few months ago, and even Ma Bell and the Baby Bells have had their problems over the years. Redundancy certainly helps, but is never a perfect solution. Even the 9-1-1 call centers all have backup plans. If telephone service is important to you, you should also have a backup plan.
For more information about Ooma, look at http://www.ooma.com/
For more information about VoIP Telephone Services, see my earlier article at http://goo.gl/YdRD0
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