Information Technology

Every organization needs access to the Internet these days. But whether you are a government or non-profit, every organization has its own unique and specific needs, and the quality of service requirements depends on the type of work your organization provides. Too many organizations don’t put enough time or thought into choosing the right Internet Service Provider (ISP). This can lead to an organization under contract with a service provider that is unable to deliver the quality of service that is needed. It is important that you assess your actual Internet needs and identify what to ask potential ISPs before entering into a contract for their services.

Location of Service to be Provided

While the
availability of broadband Internet is increasing, depending on where your organization
is located, your options may be limited to only a few ISPs and/or possibly
limited to certain bandwidth maximums.
The closer you are to a major metropolitan area, the greater your
options will be. Conversely, if you are
based in a rural area, you may be limited to poor Internet options like dial-up,
DSL, or possibly only satellite Internet, which can realistically only provide
very limited capabilities, and quite possibly cost more than adequate services
easily found in urban and suburban areas.

Evaluating Potential ISPs

Evaluating an ISP is the most critical step in this process. Sometimes it is even more important than broadband Internet requirements. Most ISPs in one form or another can provide similar levels of Internet access when it comes to speed of service, which seems to be their focus on selling the service. So essentially the ISP will sell the speed of their service, not the quality of their service, and this is where the breakdown begins. While speed is most likely the most important factor for your home Internet needs, your organization’s needs can be drastically different.

At home, you likely primarily care about how fast can you download content and how much content can you stream at once. While on the surface it would seem that if this works at home, why shouldn’t it work at your organization? Most home Internet providers provide a service where your Internet connection is shared with your neighbors which causes degradation of service, and at peak times you may notice that your download speeds are slower, and websites might be a bit slower to respond, but your streaming continues to work flawlessly. Why? Because providers know that this service is important to home users so their backend equipment is tweaked to treat that type of content as high priority. The problem is when these types of providers decide that they are qualified to provide the same service commercially. Their network remains the same, and their equipment is still configured with streaming as a top priority – as an example, which is not at all what most organizations would consider a top priority service. In many cases, the only difference between their home Internet and commercial Internet plans is the price.

When interviewing ISPs, beyond inquiring about the speed of their service, you should also ask if they consider their service to be a business class service. This means is the level of service not just billed like a more expensive business class service, but will it actually provide a level of service that your organization would require? Will the required ports be open so that your email or internal web server can continue function? Do you have business class QoS policies, and are they proactively monitored? Do you guarantee >99% uptime (meaning your service won’t be disrupted like you might have with a home Internet service)? If this guarantee isn’t met, can your organization get out of the contract without penalty and/or will you organization be reimbursed for outages? Is this considered a shared Internet service (like home broadband)? Lastly, what type of contract will your organization be required to sign? Signing a longer term contract will generally get you a lower price, but in the long run it is best not to sign a contract longer than three years. Within a three year time frame, services and technologies generally get better, and the associated costs also decrease.

Types of Broadband Internet

With today’s
technologies, there can be a half dozen or more possible Internet broadband
solutions available to select from and luckily, for most, it is more important
to understand your organization’s needs as opposed to understanding the
underlying technologies. Most ISPs have
some sort of backbone infrastructure based on fiber, so don’t allow this term
to impress you, or lead you to believe that this ISP must be better. Once you have found an ISP that can provide
the quality and reliability of service that your organization requires, then
you can focus on the quantity (speed) of service that they can provide.

Understanding Download and Upload Speeds

You have
most likely heard the terms upload and download speeds thrown around, but never
really considered what the differences are or what makes each important. Download speed refers to the speed at which
you can download data, and upload speed refers to the speed at which data can
be uploaded to the Internet. In the
past, download speed is all that really mattered, but nowadays with the advent
of “Cloud” and Internet based application and storage services, upload speed is
becoming every bit as important. You
will see services advertised as 20/5, 25/5, 50/10, 30/30, etc. These are just examples as the options can be
endless, but what’s important is understanding that the first number is
download speed and the last is upload speed (both measured in megabits per
second, or mbps). Upload is also
becoming a more important factor because more and more organizations are
allowing employees to work offsite, or at home. So when an employee is remotely connected to
your internal network (most likely via a VPN connection, or self-hosted cloud
services), any data that they receive or access from your network is impacted
by your upload speed. They are
essentially downloading data from your network, which from your network’s
perspective is an upload. It is correct
that their download speed at their remote location is important, but since most
organizations allowing remote access to their network allow it for many
employees, not just one, upload speed is very important. So there may be instances where a dozen or
more employees may be connected into your network remotely at once and
essentially each of those people will be relying on (or sharing) your upload
speed. In this instance, you may want
your upload speed to be equal to your download speed.