Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When Broadband is Hard to Find

By: John Shepler

If your business is located downtown in a major metro area, the idea of network and telecom services being hard to find seems a little odd. You probably have at least a couple of competitive providers vying for your business, as well as the local telephone company. Your challenge is to find the best deal on connectivity, trunk lines and cloud services. There are likely options available that you don’t even know about.

Some places are a bit scarce on connectivity...If you are located in a rural area or working from a home office, this wealth of opportunity may be missing. You may feel that nothing is available or you are stuck with a single option that’s a real stretch for your budget. Actually, there may be more bandwidth options available than you think.

T1 Lines are Readily Available
Businesses with their own commercial addresses have it the easiest. They can almost always get at least some traditional telecommunications services. These include POTS phone service and T1 lines. Both use the same twisted pair copper cables that connect nearly every building.

T1 started out as a telephone trunking service, but has been used for dedicated private lines and Internet access for decades. Each T1 line provides 1.5 Mbps in both the upload and download directions. Today that’s pretty low-end broadband, but it’s more than sufficient for credit card verification, email and simple Web access. You can also run backups to the cloud and connect with headquarters.

Boosting T1 Bandwidth
Not enough bandwidth? T1 lines can be bonded together to create a larger data pipe. Two bonded lines gives you 3 Mbps, 4 lines offer 6 Mbps and so on up to 10 or 12 Mbps. Bonded T1 is highly reliable and readily available. You might find it a bit pricey because there is no economy of scale. Two lines cost 2x one line. Even so, out in the boonies T1 and bonded T1 is likely well worth the cost. That cost has dropped precipitously in the last few years, by the way. If you haven’t taken a look at T1 lately you may be surprised by the value. Even so, expect to spend a couple hundred dollars a month or more for T1 service.

Broadband From Space
Another service almost universally available is two-way satellite or VSAT. Many small retail locations use satellite for their transaction processing and connectivity to HQ. Satellite bandwidth has been similar to T1 at a somewhat lower cost. More advanced satellites now offer bandwidths of 10 Mbps or more for a higher price. The thing to know about satellites is that they can connect anywhere in the country with a clear view of the southern sky. You can even power the equipment “off the grid.” Limitations are that bandwidth is shared and you are generally limited in the amount of data you can upload or download each month. Latency is also high, making the service hard to use for VoIP telephony. Compare that with dedicated line services that offer low latency and have no usage limits.

Broadband From Cell Towers
If your needs are modest, you may get by with 3G or 4G fixed wireless. This is a fancier “all office” version of a smartphone hotspot. If you can get smartphone broadband at your location, this service should work for your office or store. Just know that usage is limited and sometimes involves overage charges. It’s great for transaction processing and simple Internet usage, but not for heavy video usage and software downloads.

What’s Available for the Home Office?
SOHO (Small Office Home Office) users generally choose DSL or Cable broadband because of the low cost with decent performance. It’s not uncommon to get all the speed you need for $50 or so. You won’t find anything like those prices with T1 or bonded T1 lines. That’s because the bandwidth is shared among many customers and is a “best effort” rather than guaranteed availability service.

I often get inquiries from home office users who can’t get or don’t “like” their cable or DSL choices, but are shocked at the cost of more reliable and higher performing business telecom services. Are there any other options available?

You, too, can get two-way satellite service. You may be quite happy with it or be frustrated by the latency (time delay hesitation), usage limits, and interruptions during bad weather. It depends on what you are doing.

Fixed Wireless for SOHO Use
How about fixed wireless? If you can get good cellular service, you might consider something like a “Mi-Fi” hotspot that creates a WiFi hotspot using bandwidth on your 3G or 4G LTE cellular plan. This lets you use your desktop and laptop computers, tablets and other Internet devices on the same Internet access available from your smartphone. Once again, this is “light duty” service that is great for limited or emergency usage, but not for consistently heavy traffic.

Other Wireless Options
Another option that’s available in some areas but not others is non-cellular fixed wireless. These are WISPs or Wireless Internet Service Providers. Generally, these companies install a small dish or antenna on your home or office building and give you a wired connection for your router. You’ll need to look for these locally, as they are typically local enterprises not connected with nationwide providers. You also need to be within line of sight from their tower or towers and not too far away.

Call for Fiber… Maybe
How about fiber optic service? Verizon, Google and other companies have been building out fiber systems in select locations around the country. If you are lucky enough to be within one of these service footprints, you can get a lot of bandwidth for the money with FTTP (Fiber to the Premises).

Finding Home Office Broadband
If you are have a home office, you can try checking for DSL/Cable services or 3G/4G cellular wireless. You can also do an Internet search for satellite broadband from Dish Network, DIRECTV and others. Look locally for non-cellular fixed wireless.

Finding Business Location Bandwidth
If your business has a commercial location, then the Telarus GeoQuote search on is for you. This service gives you instant pricing for T1 lines, DS3 bandwidth, Ethernet over Copper, fiber optic and business grade Cable broadband. A quick inquiry will also get you quotes on VSAT and high capacity fixed wireless services appropriate for your business locations.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Note: Photo of Monument Valley courtesy of Josep Renalias on Wikimedia Commons.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Connectivity Should Be Invisible

By: John Shepler

Buffering videos, garbled VoIP phone calls, slow loading web pages, interminable waits for files to download, jerky video conferencing, hesitation in response from the cloud. They’re all symptoms of connectivity that makes us painfully aware of its presence.

Get the MAN and WAN network performance you need.That’s not what you want. You want connectivity to be invisible, like other utilities. Flip a switch and the lights come on. Turn the faucet handle and out comes the water. Unless something goes horribly wrong, this is how it works every time. So, why do we have lower expectations of our bandwidth connections?

Not So Great Expectations
Perhaps its because so many of us who are in a position to do something about it were around to watch the blossoming of the Internet from a backwater mail service for academics to the primary way we do business and communicate. Perhaps it’s because the technology is still evolving. This is especially true in mobile applications and remote locations, where bandwidth is still a precious commodity and limited in both speed and availability.

Otherwise, it is quite possible to achieve that goal of making network operations a background activity for business users. You can then treat your connected devices as appliances. You turn then on and every function works the same way, all the time. Nothing happens to break your stream of consciousness or give the impression that something is “broken.”

What to Know
You need to be aware of the some key performance characteristics of your network. No, not your LAN. I assume that you’ve already optimized your in-house network. The real Achilles heel is those outside connection, the MAN and the WAN.

The first parameter of importance is bandwidth. The idea behind having “big pipes” is that the conduits are always larger than the quantity of bits per second that you are sending through them. When the circuits can’t handle the volume of traffic, they become congested. It’s like too many cars trying to enter a superhighway. At some point it all clogs up and things slow to a crawl.

Networks, including the Internet, are good at preserving the integrity of the traffic but not so good at keeping the flow moving at top speed when congested. Buffers fill up as each node waits its turn. At some point, packets can no longer be accepted until those in process move on. Does this sound like a busy airport during a snowstorm? The analogy is close.

How Much BW is Enough?
What this all means is that you need to order the level of bandwidth consistent with your current and near-term needs. “Of course,” you say. “That’s obvious.”

Well, it is an it isn’t. There are a numerous ways you can get caught without the bandwidth you need. One is application demand that is creeping up. Those T1 lines you ordered a decade ago have been working reliably until recently. The carrier says they still are. What’s happened is that you’ve added employees, moved applications to the cloud and depend on the Internet for more of your communications. The lines are still working fine. They’re just overloaded. You need more bandwidth.

So, you go out and order a high speed satellite link that has 10x your old bandwidth. File transfers seem to be working fine, but you can’t carry on a telephone conversation because you have to pause for a second between talking and listening. Your cloud business applications also seem to run a lot slower than they did when you ran your own data center. How much bandwidth does it take to fix this situation?

The Latency Speed Bump
No amount will be enough. That’s because your problem is latency, not bandwidth. Latency is a time delay between source and destination. In-house the speed of electrons through wires and photons through fiber is so fast that you’ll be hard pressed to detect it. But, when those locations are connected by a radio wave path that goes up over 22,000 miles to a satellite and back down 22,000+ miles, the delay is noticeable, if not downright annoying. A round trip takes something like half a second… even at the speed of light.

Network congestion can contribute to latency, but an uncontested network can still have latency issues depending on path length and any buffering delays introduced by equipment in the path.

Other Sources of Network Congestion
Congestion can also be caused by contention between your needs and those of other companies sharing the MAN or WAN network. You may have installed more than enough bandwidth for your needs, but the network doesn’t have enough for yours plus everyone else’s. This is a classic issue with the Internet and mobile cell towers. Too many users at once can overwhelm the system and force everyone to take turns using the limited resources.

What can you do about that? First, keep your in-house communications on dedicated private lines or through an MPLS network that guarantees performance. Choose symmetric services with the same bandwidth in the upload and download directions unless your are sure your needs are asymmetrical.

For Internet connections, which we all need, you can bypass most of the “information slow lane” problems with a dedicated Internet connection. This gives you the best performance in terms of bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss. The actual core of the Internet is really pretty good. It’s the last mile connections, especially those shared with other users on “best effort” services like DSL, Cable and cellular, that get easily overloaded.

How to Choose
Ultimately, it’s a cost vs performance tradeoff. Cable broadband works great for residential and home office users and can work just fine for businesses that don’t have critical requirements. Most medium and larger businesses, however, need to move up to private lines and dedicated Internet connections if they want their connectivity to become invisible to users.

Do you wish your connectivity was more invisible that it is now? Look into high performance MAN and WAN bandwidth options that are available for your business location.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Save Elephants By Transferring Your Domain Names

By John Shepler

Here’s a short term opportunity for you to save considerably on what you pay for your domain names and help a worthy cause at the same time.

Save money and help save elephants at the same time.Namecheap, a well known domain and hosting company that we use for our own domains, is running a special offer still available today (August 15, 2014). When you transfer your .com, .net or .org domain to Namecheap, you pay just $7.88 for the first year and use the promo code SAVEDUMBO. That’s a great bargain compared to most hosting companies.

What about after the first year? I just renewed one of my important commercial .com domains for $10.69. That’s a good price on its own. $7.88 is a steal.

So, what’s this good deed? In addition to the price break you receive, Namecheap will send $1 to Save the Elephants for each transfer.

Save the Elephants is an important organization working to secure a future for elephants on the African continent. At least 33,000 elephants are being illegally killed each year for their ivory. At this rate, they may well go extinct within our lifetime.

Is that something you want to let happen? I didn’t think so. Learn more about the work that Save the Elephants is doing to thwart poaching and trafficking in ivory and to raise awareness of this dire situation. If you are moved by this important cause, please consider making a donation of your own to Save the Elephants or some of the other important organizations working to “help an elephant.”

Don’t forget, the Namecheap special transfer offer is good today only, although you can get an excellent price on hosting and domain registrations all year long.

Update: With your help, NameCheap donated $1,256 to Save The Elephants in honor of this year's World Elephant Day. Thank you.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Bandwidth Options for Healthcare Providers

By: John Shepler

Electronic health records, medical imaging and telemedicine are making broadband connections an essential part of healthcare operations. Let’s take a look at what’s needed for today’s EHR environment.

Get more bandwidth for your practice.There are two types of bandwidth services that you’ll want to consider. These are private lines and the public Internet. Both have their place.

Private lines are used by all sizes of businesses and organizations for internal communications. The fact that these lines are “private” means that they are not used for communication with the public at large or anyone not directly connected into the network.

Physician and hospital groups may well have large amounts of electronic data that they want to keep in-house under strict access control. Think of private lines as a way to extend your network.

Point to point private lines include such familiar options as T1, DS3, SONET OC3, OC12 and OC48, Ethernet over Copper and Ethernet over Fiber. Each of these options gives you a fixed amount of bandwidth that is dedicated to your use only and is inaccessible by anyone else. They differ in the technology to implement the service and the amount of bandwidth available.

For instance, T1 lines have been around forever, are available just about anywhere you can get a phone line installed, are highly reliable and are very reasonably priced. What’s not to love? The bandwidth is their limitation. While 1.5 Mbps was considered high speed in the days of dial-up modems, 1.5 Mbps is entry level broadband today. You probably won’t want to wait around for the time it takes to transfer large files with both text and images.

You’ll find a good discussion on healthcare provider bandwidth needs on the Health IT. gov site. The minimum bandwidth recommend for a single physician practice is 4 Mbps. That’s enough to support practice management functions including email and web browsing, plus simultaneous use of electronic health records (EHR) and high quality video consultations. It also is enough for non real-time image downloads and remote monitoring.

A small physician practice with 2 to 4 physicians will want to move up to 10 Mbps for the same functions. The extra bandwidth assumes more than one physician using the service at a time. The 10 Mbps level is also considered suitable for nursing homes and rural health clinics.

When you consider the needs of a clinic or large physician practice with 5 to 15 physicians, the bandwidth requirements increases to 25 Mbps. A hospital will need 100 Mbps and a large or academic medical center really needs 1000 Mbps.

The FCC publication “Health Care Broadband in America” goes into more detail about what drives bandwidth requirements. An Xray is about 10 MB and needs 60 seconds to download at 1 Mbps or 5 seconds at 16 Mbps. An MRI at 45 MB needs 72 Mbps to download in the same 5 sends or 300 seconds or a full 5 minutes at 1 Mbps. A 64 slice CT scan at 3 GB needs 4800 Mbps for a 5 second download or 80 Mbps for a 5 minute download time.

As you can see, there is a tradeoff between the amount of bandwidth you have and how long it takes to transfer files of various sizes. I’d suggest taking these requirements as a minimum, as the report was published in 2010 and technology is only getting more sophisticated with larger file sizes.

In addition to the bandwidth of the line, there are other technical parameters to consider. These include whether the service is symmetrical (same upload and download speeds), dedicated to your use only or shared between your practice and other users, the latency or time delay in transmission, and the amount of jitter and packet loss. All of these are quality of service metrics.

Dedicated private lines are almost always symmetrical, with low values of latency, jitter and packet loss. You can bond T1 lines together to increase bandwidth from 3 Mbps up to about 12 Mbps. That’s important for rural practices where there may be few other options. In metro areas, DS3 offers 45 Mbps, OC3 is 155 Mbps, OC12 gives you 622 Mbps and OC48 is 2.4 Gbps. These are all delivered over SONET fiber optic carriers.

Alternative landline services include Ethernet over Copper with bandwidth from about 3 to 50 Mbps, depending on location. Ethernet over Fiber service starts at 10 Mbps and goes up to 10 Gbps, with service to 40 or 100 Mbps in select areas.

Dedicated lines are also popular for connecting to the Internet to get the highest performance available. You don’t have the same level of control of what’s actually traversing the Internet, but it does have offer nearly universal connectivity.

For Internet access, you also have the option of option of connecting via shared bandwidth services. Popular options are DSL, Cable, satellite and 3G/4G wireless. Generally, these are asymmetrical, with higher speeds on download than upload. Also, they are offered on an “as available” basis without any service level agreement regarding availability, bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss.

The tradeoff in performance between the dedicated and shared services is that the shared services are for using the Internet and they are considerably less expensive. Internet security doesn’t begin to measure up to dedicated private lines, but it can be made workable using encryption such as VPN and SSL at each end.

The best solution for many practices may be a combination of private lines and Internet service. The Internet is valuable for communication with patients at home and using mobile apps, and also to establish WiFi service for visitor use. Private lines are beneficial for high speed communication between medical facilities and physician offices.

Is your medical practice running out of bandwidth in today’s EHR environment? You may be able to afford much more than you think with multiple bandwidth options and providers available at your location.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Is Managed WiFi Right for You?

By: John Shepler

Broadband is everywhere now. In fact, its become an expectation. For consumers, it’s their way to stay connected when there isn’t a wire to plug into. For businesses, it’s a way to offer the benefit of connectivity to their customers and to unchain their employees from the cable tether.

Look into cloud managed WiFi for cost and performance advantages.What about 3G and 4G cellular?
Isn’t cellular the true way to go mobile? Over wide areas, yes. It’s hard to beat cellular broadband on your smartphone. That is, until you reach your monthly usage limit. Then it gets expensive fast. Also, many computers, tablets and other devices don’t have the radios built-in to work on cellular, even if you wanted to pay to add them to your account. The one thing most every device does have is WiFi connectivity.

Enabling WiFi
At the most basic level, you can create a WiFi “hotspot” by simply connecting a wireless access point or WiFi router to your network or broadband connection. This is how it’s done at home and in smaller businesses. As the number of users increases and the area to be covered expands, suddenly managing a WiFi network isn’t so simple anymore. You can either grin and bear the extra effort involved or you can consider moving to a managed WiFi solution.

Managed WiFi in the Cloud
Managed WiFi simply means that a service provider, rather than you, does the heavy lifting of making the larger WiFi network work. A new wrinkle is cloud managed WiFi. This allows a service provider to deploy software updates and generate reports for you behind the scenes. A comprehensive system for cloud managed wireless is the Cisco Meraki system.

What Cisco Offers
The Cisco Meraki access point features high power radios for solid coverage with enhanced receive sensitivity compared to the garden variety WiFi AP. It includes MIMO and beamforming technology to met enterprise-class 802.11ac and 802.11n standards on the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. The MR34 AP also has a dedicated security radio that scans and protects against security threats, adapts to interference and automatically configures the RF settings for maximum performance.

Security Features
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has become a user demand and a major headache for the IT department. If anyone can bring anything onto the network, security goes out the window. Who knows what’s going on?

The Cisco Meraki wireless solution feature set accommodates BYOD by identifying clients and automatically applying access policies by device or user groups. The system automatically assigns firewall and traffic shaping rules, VLAN tags and bandwidth limits to enforce policies by user class. Critical apps are prioritized and recreational apps can be limited for management control.

The cloud based analytics generate extensive metrics such as user visit time, repeat visits, apps used. You can manage WAN, LAN , wireless LAN and mobile devices on your control panel. That includes everything from a single location to a campus wide solution. There’s even an iOS and Android mobile app for network management on the go.

Acquiring Managed WiFi
An excellent approach that works well for both large and small installations is to get your managed wireless solution from a bandwidth provider such as MegaPath. This way you have one supplier for all of your connections, including MAN, WAN and WiFi. MegaPath’s network operations center will continuously monitor, configure and troubleshoot your wireless network on your behalf. They also have the most up to date security features the meet the requirements of the PCI (Payment Card Industry) data security standards.

If you are considering a major wireless expansion or installing WiFi access for the first time, get the details on cloud managed WiFi now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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