The quote from Jaws as the Great White shark bore down on them is oft repeated for broadband – “you’re going to need a bigger boat.” But perhaps you also need a more nimble one or faster one or reliable one, or one built for the purpose you intend. Aside from speed (e.g. GigE or Gigabit Ethernet), there are other important features of the connection. As many know, a T-1 line (1.54 Mbps) works “better” than a residential “up to 50 Mbps” connection. Consider some of these other features:
1. DIA vs Best Efforts – The T-1 is a DIA or Direct Internet Access – the bandwidth is yours and not limited to a fixed number of bytes transferred or having to be shared as the “…up to 50 Mbps” residential connection. The home connections are best efforts type of Service Level Agreement (SLA) that originated in the wired world when the speed was actually dependent upon many things including the distance to the central office or CO. Anyone who has had to share cable on Superbowl Sunday or when an new game or movie is released could see a far different environment in the evening compared to 4 am on a quiet Tuesday. Since residential service is out of phase with the business connection, carriers sell these at very low rates to fill up the pipe off hours. The DIA is a far different connection – the bandwidth is committed and if more is needed your supplier has to find it. Many applications require this kind of reliability and consistency.
2. Burstable – when your connection is connected to the Internet, it reserves a port on the equipment of your ISP, typically a 1 Gbps or 10 Gbps port. Commercial SLA’s often have equipment that will throttle your connection to your commit (from the DIA connection) so that if you have a 50 Mbps commit into a 10 Gbps port that is lightly loaded, it will still limit you to 50 Mbps. The more sophisticated SLA is a 95% Burstable connection. This kind of connection will allow you to use the full capacity of the system up to 5% of the month (measured on 5 min averages), and for many applications is a much better connection (e.g. web servers with highly variable traffic).
3. Symmetry – most non-fiber connections today (and some fiber connections) are asymmetric, i.e. they are based on the model that we are all sitting at home watching movies. They provide us a very fast connection from the Internet and a quite slow connection up to it. Applications such as web servers, file sharing, gaming, cloud storage or other cloud operations, direct connection of buildings in a campus or many others suffer when they use the Internet for business connections. In addition, some systems, even if they have high capacity, ban the file sharing and web servers operations so that they can connect more customers to fixed amount of bandwidth but this is precisely the functionality that a new Internet business needs to operate.
4. Latency – the speed of light is about 1 ms per 200 km so if you need low latency in a cloud based operation and you are running in a data center across the ocean or across the country, there will be latency. For an entrepreneur, there are some applications that simply require low latency – cloud based interactive games, robotic control (e.g. surgery), computer trading and many more. If you have a DIA the latency is fairly predictable if your ISP maintains consistency; but some inexpensive connection continually search for the cheapest route and even strip some of the tag information to make it cheaper to transit. Generally the latency is built into the physical connection and you will never change the speed of light.
Recently I heard a story of a user on fiber optic services where an entrepreneur decided to start up a web business in his house – serving out information for profit. This can be big business, Secretary Chu likes to note that Zillow is a $1B business based on serving up free government data. As the amount of information explodes, there will be many businesses. In this case, the entrepreneur started up three business over a six month time frame and the third one was a hit that he was able to sell. This could be the track of the next Facebook, Pandora, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google with server farms today that had their start as single servers. This kind of user (web servers for business) is generally prohibited on residential connection.
Broadband is an enabler but care must be taken that the full capabilities are exposed, especially the ones required for success.