It would be nice if the IT industry had a simple formula that says a company with 20 employee’s needs an internet connection with “X speed” or a company with 50 workstations needs an internet connection with “Y speed”. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Why? Because there are too many variables and intangibles needed to create the formula needed to find this magical number. Things such as how many users will being using the Internet, how many of them will use it at the same time, how does each user plan to use the Internet for business (and pleasure), etc. As you can see, this becomes less science and more of a game of logically guessing exactly what is needed.
So does this mean you are just throwing a dart at a board and hoping to hit anywhere near the bullseye? Not necessarily. To make a good guess at the speed you need, you first need to figure out what is your median traffic throughout the week, and make sure your internet connection easily accommodates that. This suggestion works whether you’re an engineering firm pushing out large files or a medical practice that needs patient data readily available to get through the day’s appointments.
To know if your internet needs a speed boost, you need to monitor your bandwidth usage. You can ask your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or your IT support team for ways to monitor it. Your IT team should be able to take a sampling of the usage over different periods of time to see how your internet connection is handling average and peak usage loads. Also, make sure to listen to your users because they will be the first to report internet sluggishness. Yes, some people will always complain that the internet is too slow, but keep an eye on this anyway. After all, slow internet speeds can compromise 10%-15% of your employees’ productivity
Best Practices to Achieve Good Internet Speeds:
- Redundancy – If your business relies on the internet to do work, including pulling data from the cloud and using the phone if you’re using Voice Over IP (VOIP) phones, then you should have redundant internet connections from different Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Building redundancy with different internet carriers minimizes your chances of losing internet altogether. For some clients, we’re putting in a tertiary carrier using cell networks for vital operations and to run credit cards in real-time because the faster options (fiber, cable, phone) generally run next to each other on the same poles and underground pipes. So if something happens to the physical lines (e.g. vehicle knocks over a pole, a backhoe cuts an underground cable, or a natural disaster destroys the lines) then both ISP connections will be out! The cellular connection provides a physically different method of providing internet and still provides strong speeds.
- Reliability – Don’t pick vendors purely based on price. Evaluate your ROI (Return On Investment) by asking them their actual uptime (the time the network is running) and time to resolve outages. Although 99% uptime sounds great, it means their network is down 3.65 days a year—ouch! A 99.99999% uptime means an average annual outage under 1 hour, which for a business that relies on this connection to get work done and make money, brings much more ROI to them than a provider with 99% uptime.
- Hot Fail Overs – The best way to ensure that you never lose internet is to have a hot failover plan in place where the second data connection automatically activates if the first carrier does not respond. Your users (employees and customers) may notice an outage of a minute or two depending on your configuration, but it will not affect your productivity for a long period of time, which is the point of redundant connections. A failover should be set to happen automatically so you do not need someone to walk to the server room and move the internet cord from one port to another; that is where mistakes are often made and most companies do not remember to switch back to the primary connection.
- Load Balancing – When you have redundancy for your internet, don’t just wait for the internet to go out to utilize the second option. Use your second line to back up your data throughout the day, which improves your RPO (Recovery Point Objective) and it does not impact the speed of your primary internet connection. If you provide public WIFI for customers, like an auto dealership or medical practice, you can separate their connection so your employees work on the primary connection to ensure high speeds and additional security. (You can also prioritize your internal needs and disconnect the public WIFI if the first connection goes down.) Another value of redundant lines is the ability to balance the internet utilization load over both connections during peak usage times, giving users a better experience (and keeping them productive too!).
Many companies over buy internet speeds and still do not see the speeds they expect because of other underlying issues.
What Can Compromise Internet Speeds:
- Office Location – Today, your physical location may decrease your options for high-speed internet, in particular, in rural areas. Most urban and suburban areas have access to cable, and even fiber connections if in an office building. But the more rural a location, the more likely you have fewer ISPs. Plus, you’ll often find that the options you do have is shared with many other companies and users in your area. This can lead to an ISP over subscribing to their service (too many users but not enough bandwidth).
- Cost – A growing business may outgrow their internet connection quickly and not be able to reinvest in a large plan immediately. Or, if more rural, your location may make it cost-prohibitive for you and the ISP to lay wire to your office. If that is the case, you may have to consider limiting how your internet is used, throttling back some users to prioritize mission-critical usage, and use creative options such as the cellular providers I mentioned previously because a 4G connection can still provide 30 Mbps of data (and cellular is getting faster with LTE advanced options).
- Web Content – Many companies restrict or filter their internet to prevent employees from going to content that is not work appropriate, which also helps prevent viruses and ransomware attacks. You can also block streaming music on Pandora, watching videos on YouTube, and streaming movies on Netflix because those media sites can “clog” up your bandwidth and reduce the productivity of your employees who use the Internet to work on your business.
- Network Infrastructure – You’ve purchased the fastest internet connection possible, but you’re not getting the speeds as promised. A lot of the times this is caused by an under spec’d firewall. Some firewalls may have ports able to handle 100 Mbps of data speed, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get 100 Mbps, especially if the firewall’s processor can only handle 25 Mbps of throughput. Another problem can be caused by an aging switch with bad ports that start to flood your network, bottlenecking your connection. These failures are why we encourage a strong hardware life cycle management plan.
- Access to WI-FI – If your team moves around the office using laptops, smartphones, and tablets, they may notice a lag in different spots of the office because your Wi-Fi signal derogates over distance. Consider adding additional access points to increase speeds across the entire office, especially in common meeting areas like the conference room.
We don’t hear this question about internet speeds as much anymore in regards to how much do I need because we’re past the days of T1 connections, which were just a step above dial-up modems. Most business owners ask us what they need now because ISPs are offering previously unheard of speeds at a fraction of the price paid the lesser speeds just a few years ago.
The real question is actually not about how much internet bandwidth a company needs, but what is the priority of the users and functions. Ask yourself, “How many people do we need to sustain on the internet? Is my internet as smooth as I need it to be? How much does a slow connection impair my employee’s productivity?”
Also, try not to sign long-term contracts such as 4 or 5 years unless you see a great value over a single year deal because high growth companies outgrow their current internet needs quickly. Measure the long-term value versus your growth and expected change over time. Most companies, even ones not growing, do not see a value in the fourth and fifth years because the internet becomes a choke point that decreases productivity. For companies not in high growth mode, internet usage continues to increase – just look at how much the internet and how we use it has changed the past 5 years both professionally and personally. About 5 years ago, many companies could work without an internet connection, while that just isn’t the case anymore so we need more redundancies in place to stay operational and productive.
If you’re unsure if your company has enough bandwidth, or if you’re contract is up for renewal, work with an IT support team like us. IT professionals can diagnosis your symptoms much like going to a doctor when you’re ill, including running the tests needed to make good decisions to keep your company growing and working efficiently.