One of the technologies which helped the Internet and cloud services to become ubiquitous in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is broadband, also known as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services. Offering a good speed for an affordable price, DSL services have become a standard part of most businesses but they aren’t without their potential problems. And with many SMEs not aware of these problems, they very often fail to take steps to prevent them affecting their business unless it’s too late.

In this article we cover some of the issues that SMEs (and even some bigger organisations) aren’t always aware of and how they can be mitigated or prevented.

Broadband is not a guaranteed service

Almost all broadband services around the world (and all currently available ones in the UK) are not a guaranteed service. Simply

A picture of a Vigor 2862Ln broadband router

The Vigor 2862Ln features 4G backup connectivity shoult your broadband line fail.

put, they are supplied on a basis that they may or may not work, and you pay for the service regardless. If the service goes wrong (and there are many reasons it can go wrong), the supplier does not guarantee to fix it within a guaranteed time period and does not have to offer a refund for the time that it doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, many SMEs fail to note this fact until their only connection to the Internet no longer works and has a serious impact on their business!

Fortunately, this is a very easy situation to guard against by installing a backup route to the Internet. This could be by installing a secondary broadband line (such as a cheaper ADSL line), a cellular backup (such as a 3G or 4G connection) or a satellite connection. Although this does mean a larger investment in equipment and services, these are often cheaper than the loss of business by several days of not having access to the Internet. Care should also be taken to ensure than any backup system has sufficient capacity to provide a workable backup and that any equipment and external services can handle changes in routes caused by a line fail over.

Broadband varies widely in quality

Although broadband is available from a large number of providers at a wide range of prices, the quality of the service can vary widely. There are a number of reasons for this, but the two main reasons are “contention” and “traffic management”.

Contention is the number of broadband lines which are trying to connect to the Internet via the same connection. At busy times, highly contested lines can offer a very slow Internet connection as a large number of users will be trying to use the same bandwidth at the same time. On cheap services, contention can be as high as 250 users on a single connection!

Traffic management is a way of limiting users’ activity on the Internet by setting rules around how quickly data should pass across the broadband network based on it’s type. For example, a rule could be set to limit web speeds at lunch time (as this is a busy period for this traffic) or limit telephone (VoIP) quality first thing in the morning.

Business class broadband services offer low contention (usually 15-25 users per connection) and are not traffic managed, but can cost slightly more than the cheaper services. If the quality of your Internet connection is valuable to your organisation, it may be worth paying that little extra.

Line speed does not equate to Internet speed

One of the most enduring myths of broadband is that the line speed (the speed shown on the router) is the actual speed that you are able to access the Internet and, like most myths, this one has a germ of truth.

When broadband was first released, the low connection speeds were usually the limiting factor when it came to the Internet connection, which meant that the line speed was usually equal to the connection speed. However, as line speeds increased, the limiting factor soon became the contention ratio or traffic management on the line.

Line speed is an interesting indication of how fast your Internet connection could be, but can not be relied on as a true indication of Internet connection speed.

Broadband supplier provided routers are rarely business grade

In the same way that the quality of broadband lines vary widely, the quality of broadband routers also vary widely. Cheaper routers, such as those provided by many broadband providers, tend to lack many basic features which organisations need to ensure employee productivity and Internet safety.

Although many of these routers feature functions such as WiFi and a firewall, this functionality is usually very basic and usually doesn’t meet the legal requirements set out by the current data protection laws. Using WiFi on a router is also very unwise as any security issues with the WiFi means that an attacker could gain access to all the data which is passed to and from the Internet; separate WiFi access points should be used and protected by a firewall and dedicated VLAN. They also often lack important functions such as Quality of Service (QoS), which is required for ensuring that latency critical applications (such as those which process voice data), and Virtual LANs (VLANs), which are vital for securing a network.

Although it can be tempting to use the supplied equipment (especially if it is supplied as part of the connection package or supplied “free of charge”) investing in good quality routers, such as a Draytek 2800 or 2900 series routers, will make a noticeable difference to the speed and reliability of your Internet connection.

Monitoring is key

As a route between an organisation and the Internet, broadband should be monitored to ensure that it is preforming correctly and securely.

Although it is considered to be a “set and forget” system, broadband routers collect a wealth of information on data flow, line speed and stability and security information (such as attempted breaches and compromised systems already within your organisation). By analysing this data, it is possible to get valuable insights about the stability and performance of your Internet connection as well as where valuable data is being lost (or stolen!).

Monitoring is largely over looked by organisations which, considering it’s valuable nature, is unwise. Many either are not aware of it’s existence, don’t have the ability to manage it or simply consider it easier to discard it.

Processing and responding to monitoring information can be a very difficult discipline, even for organisations with sizeable IT departments and budgets. Unless you have an IT department with dedicated monitoring staff, it makes sound business sense to trust your monitoring to a specialist third party. IXCG offer a number of on-premesis, hybrid and cloud based monitoring solutions which can either be monitored by your IT staff, our specially trained monitoring staff or a combination of both.

Summary

For many organisations a broadband connection is a vital part of trading and, without it, suffer significant financial losses. Unfortunately, the majority of organisations fail to choose their broadband provision carefully, install business grade equipment or plan for any kind of loss of connection.