Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When it Comes to Internet Connectivity, Business Users Get Screwed

Here I am at home downloading an MSDN image at 720KB/second; utilizing 94% of my advertized AT&T U-Verse pipe of 6mb:


A 3gb DVD in under an 90 minutes—that’s ridiculously fast. Sadly at my office, as with most businesses, it’s a completely different story. Since we allegedly need business-class connections, we have things like T1s. T1s were all the rage back in 1999 when Google was the hip new thing and the rest of us were on dialup.

Home users like me have been pampered with cheap, reliable and fast Internet access: $35/month gets me solid 6mb access. I don’t want to know what my office pays for its handful of T1s. From my days at the ISP, I would guess it’s north of $3000 for a 4.5mb pipe. That’s absurd! For about $100/mo I can go up to 18mb!

Now all you network savvy folks out there will be quick to point out that my connection is asymmetrical while the office’s connection is symmetrical. What that means for my actual reader is that while I can download a YouTube video at 6mb, I can only upload at a fraction of that, say 0.5-1mb, resulting in a pleasant viewing experience but agonizingly slow sharing of cute baby videos like this one:

At the office though, I get 4.5mb of symmetrical bandwidth (i.e. I get 4.5mb up and down simultaneously), which means I can upload to Youtube just as fast as I download, and one doesn’t even affect the other even if I do it at the same time.

So that’s all well and good but a glance at the traffic charts for my office (and I’d guess most) showed that we hardly use any of our outgoing pipe—maybe 10-20%.

Ok, so if we’re not paying $3000 for more bandwidth, then surely it’s for quality? Maybe. I’m sure we have a service level agreement of some kind and some super-high-priority tech support service. I know this because our lines used to go down pretty often and people would come out to fix them right away. The quick service at the office is nice when compared to my experiences at home with Time Warner and AT&T where outages often ran for days. The service still goes down often enough, though…

So is a paying a very stiff premium for a symmetrical pipe and better repair service (though not increased reliability!) worth it? Perhaps, though the real problem I suspect is simply the fact that businesses are businesses. They don’t have the option of the home plan. If we did, I’m sure it’d be tempting to toss it in along side a reduced set of T1s—then we’d get the cheap speed with an emergency T1 backup.

Sadly, no, businesses can’t get the cheap home access for at least two reasons: first, businesses can pay more so providers charge more, and second, businesses actually do consume more of their allotted bandwidth than home users. This last point is probably the biggest reason. My home internet connection sits idle virtually all the time. In fact, the 90 minutes it took to download that DVD image is probably the only period it’s hit capacity in months. At the office, though, our measly connection is shared with 200 people and a slew of websites. Our T1s are 100% saturated at least 12 hours a day (at least in the in-bound direction).

Still though, 100x the price? Get real!