Clearing the hype and the haze between you and the Cloud.

With organisations racing towards the Cloud, having the right amount of Internet bandwidth available to deliver a plethora of Cloud services – and sustain these concurrently, and reliably day-after-day for all your users – is a business priority.  Internet really is the 4th utility. Too little Internet bandwidth, and the fragments of time spent waiting for things to load added to the frustration caused to your users by a disappointing Cloud experience leads to countless hours and £’s of lost productivity; not to mention the risk of discord amongst the ranks arising from another IT project that failed to deliver the hype.

Yet in a broadband market bulging with such hype – plus the various contractual smoke and mirrors, how much is bandwidth is enough, and how much is too much for your business. Navigating the complex Internet world of “FTTC to FTTP requires new CPE, coz it’s not VDSL on your new ONT” requires trust in your Service Provider to expertly inform your decision making, helping your business to move forward without over paying in the hyped-up race towards Full Fibre, FTTP and Gigabit Internet.

It’s certainly important to have amount of bandwidth available and you’ll feel the crunch when what you have is not enough; but determining that amount isn’t as simple as you would think as although a scientific measure, an Internet Gigabit isn’t always a Gigabit.

Surely faster is always better?

Without a deep understanding of the various technologies, how can you tell if a Gigabit FTTP from Service Provider A is the same as a Gigabit FTTP from Service Provider B? Indeed – if a Gigabit isn’t always a Gigabit, is the utopia of Full Fibre and Gigabit always the ultrafast paradise it may seem?

For business Internet services, it’s not all about size – it’s just as much to do with bandwidth quality. Not all Service Providers are created equal, and the adage that you get what you pay for, applies equally to ISP’s – so my Gigabit may well be better, faster and more consistent than your Gigabit.

Certainly the Megabits do matter – but faster isn’t always better, and all too often the headline grabbing speeds associated with many broadband packages belie the truth that those speeds are not guaranteed, and that advertised bandwidth is contended and oversubscribed, creating challenges for the quality and consistency of user experiences with Cloud applications during peak times of day.

So if bandwidth isn’t a precise science, understanding the detail of your Internet usage is the starting point to give you a firm base on which to begin to determine the ideal broadband package for your business.  Most of today’s office users are already using a significant number of  Internet applications, including:

  • Email
  • Office 365
  • DropBox/OneDrive/Google Drive
  • Video Conferencing
  • Social Media
  • CRM/ERP
  • VoIP
  • Offsite Backup
  • CCTV

 

  • Online Banking
  • Online Collaboration
  • Media Rich Web Browsing
  • Skype
  • iPlayer / YouTube
  • Evernote
  • Downloading/Uploading Large Files
  • Remote Access and VPN
  • Digital Marketing
  • Microsoft Patching

When considering bandwidth, it might be helpful to think of a pie divided between all your team – the more people that are eating the pie, the less pie there is for everyone else. This essentially is what happens with your businesses broadband. Every online activity chatters away using bandwidth, and sucks bandwidth when downloading or uploading data. The more your employees are active online, and the greater the number of Cloud applications, the more bandwidth is being consumed.

But making the pie bigger by adding bandwidth isn’t the whole answer. In the typical Business network, all applications are treated as equals. Every application fights for bandwidth, flooding the network for byte of available Internet bandwidth, oblivious to the congestion it’s causing. If an application can download or upload fast enough to use 100% of your Internet connection – it will. The user surreptitiously downloading programs from iPlayer for the train journey home is squeezing the bandwidth available to the whole team navigating your Cloud CRM. The user uploading a video of their cat on the guest WiFi is causing stuttering audio for your Sales Manager on a VoIP call with your next customer.

Quality not Quantity with Quality of Service.

The solution is to select a Service Provider who can help to identify and classify your critical (CRM/ERP) and real-time (Voice and Video) Internet and Cloud services and prioritise these above all unimportant and less time-sensitive applications that can choke your bandwidth. Done effectively – and in both download and upload directions, a the Service Provider using technology called Quality of Service (QoS) to control download, and your on-premise router using QoS to control upload – businesses can keep every application moving and improve user experience whilst committing to less bandwidth.

However – effective prioritisation requires your on-premise router and your Service Provider to be able to understand how much bandwidth is used and still available at a given moment. If the router knows how much bandwidth is available, it can determine when the pipe is full and start delaying non-critical traffic accordingly.

 

Contended vs Dedicated Bandwidth.

This is the root of the difference between the Internet Services that offer quality guaranteed bandwidth, versus those cheaper services that offer contended bandwidth. An uncontended Gigabit Service is a Gigabit. A contended Gigabit Service isn’t; what it is depends on what your neighbours are doing right now, and how busy your ISP’s network is. It’s variable. Because your on-premise router doesn’t know anything about that congesting, it doesn’t have the information it needs to start dropping the traffic that needs to be delayed so your Sales Director can enjoy a high-quality Voice call.

Within a fixed budget, Internet dependant businesses should consider sacrificing contended Megabits and instead using dedicated bandwidth service, with two-way traffic prioritisation to keep their critical traffic moving 24/7.

 

Downstream vs Upstream Bandwidth. 

Another important aspect of bandwidth is the difference between download and upload speeds.  In simple terms, download levels determine how quickly your computer receives data (for example, the speed a file downloading). Upload levels, however, determine how quickly your computer transmits data (for example, large file attachments, video conferencing streams, and updating cloud-based applications and files). Upload is a far more important consideration for Business Broadband than it is in residential broadband.

Most entry-level business broadband packages running FTTC and FTTP offer an “asymmetric” service, meaning the upload speed is significantly lower than the download speed, which is likely similar to the connection you are using at home.  And while a slower upload might be manageable for small businesses, it is likely that it will be an issue as the business grows.

Moreover, most asymmetric FTTC services are contended bandwidth services, and you can’t assume that the speeds providers advertise are the speeds your business will actually get.  For example, if you see package advertised as offering download speeds of up to 80 Mbps, there’s no guarantee you’ll get that speed, and the same is true for upload.

The converse of this is to choose a symmetric and typically dedicated bandwidth service, meaning the upload speeds match the download speeds. In broad terms, a dedicated broadband connection is exactly what it sounds like – internet access and bandwidth that is dedicated to your business and your business alone.  This makes dedicated internet very valuable for mid-sized and larger organisations with many users, cloud-based applications, VoIP and other web-enabled services.  This does, however, mean that businesses who opt for this type of service will also have to pay a premium to guarantee that end-to-end bandwidth reservation.

 

Reliability and Service Level Agreements

Unfortunately, the physical nature of the infrastructure bringing Copper or Fibre Broadband into your business means that faults will sometimes occur, with copper services being inherently less reliable than fibre. It’s quite plausible that at some point your connection will falter, leaving your business unable to access any number of Internet operations for a period of time.  How quickly it gets dealt with depends upon the service level that comes with the package purchased.

With Business Broadband, the differing copper and fibre technologies can be supported by varying levels of Service Level Agreement from a painful 40 working hour fix on some copper broadband services, through to a 24/7/365 5-clock-hour fix, with financial penalties for failure available on Full Fibre Leased Line Services. AThere is often a choice of SLA available, with a base level and an enhanced level for each technology.

To figure out what’s best for your business, consider how much one hour of downtime costs you in sales, staff costs and reputation, and discuss the options with your Service Provider. If the costs run into the £’000’s, then a Full Fibre Leased Line connection with the most robust SLA paired with a cost-effective backup circuit to keep the lights on during an outage is a proportionate and obvious choice.

But if downtime is more an inconvenience than a major issue, then you will likely get sufficient value with a lower level SLA on a cheaper broadband service, but there may still be elevated care packages available for a little additional cost.

As more and more businesses come to rely on a robust and high-quality internet connection, an ISPs ability to guarantee data delivery, to ensure a high quality of service and to provide business-grade SLAs will hopefully become increasingly the norm.  Before you decide, check the SLAs associated with your package… not all business broadband products are equal, and in a price-focussed broadband market few offer anything approaching a business class SLA or indeed anything different to residential broadband as standard.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, how much broadband bandwidth your business requires and what technology is the best fit will come down to a good understanding of your Internet applications, and receiving expert, balanced advice from your Service Provider on the merits of the technologies available to your address.  Factors such as your business size, the number of users, the kinds of data you upload/download and the implications for your business during an outage all play a part.  Choosing between a contended or dedicated service is major factor. Consider bandwidth quality above raw Megabits quantity to ensure that both speed and reliability meet the business’s needs, and choose a Fibre based technology if possible to give flexibility to scale up quickly in the future.

Whilst contended copper internet access is more affordable (and often a good choice) for small businesses that don’t yet experience slow-downs during the business day, consider how your workloads may migrate to the Cloud in the near term, and invest in an internet connection with room to grow where possible. Always ask about the cost of a better SLA – it’s not always expensive and is priceless during a fault. Choose an ISP who offer two-way traffic prioritisation allowing you to maintain great end-user experience regardless of application and growth as this may lower the jump to move onto future-proof Fibre with the best SLA’s more cost effectively.

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