The growing prevalence of cloud computing has driven astronomical growth in the amount of data center traffic passing through networks. A 2011 survey projects this traffic to hit 468 Exabytes in 2016. To put that in context, worldwide Internet traffic surpassed one Exabyte for the first time in 2003.
The fuel behind this widespread adoption is cloud computing’s cost-effectiveness. With a “pay only for what you use” pricing structure, midsize companies can ramp up or down with minimal startup costs. In addition, there are tax benefits to having cloud computing as an operating expense, rather than a capital expenditure.
However, one factor stands in the way for many businesses — an outdated network infrastructure that is unable to operate efficiently using cloud-based systems.
Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Business Services, at Comcast Business, about how businesses can use Ethernet to maximize cloud computing, and the competitive advantage it brings.
Why are some companies unable or slow to take full advantage of the cloud’s potential?
The first hurdle to get over is the trust factor. Business owners are hesitant to hand over sensitive information and transactions to a third party. But as the use of cloud applications becomes widespread and the ease of the applications themselves make them harder to resist, more and more companies are jumping on board.
The second obstacle is often the company’s network and whether they are using the public Internet or a private Ethernet.
While a public Internet service is cost-effective and accessible from just about anywhere, the flipside to that is increased security risks that are a very credible concern.
Latency — the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points, such as from your office to the data center where the cloud application is hosted and back — is another problem when using a public connection. Some applications, such as email, can tolerate longer latency, but others like video, are latency-intolerant.
How is private connectivity, Ethernet, better matched to cloud services?
For mission-critical applications hosted at a data center or cloud provider, private connectivity provides secure, high availability and low-latency access.
Ethernet technology, which has been around for 40 years, has become the de facto technology in offices around the world, linking computers and servers together in a high-speed local area network (LAN). A metropolitan area network (MAN) can link computers over a larger area, like between buildings in a metro area, with low latency.
One service provider manages the Ethernet traffic and applications within the private network, resulting in better security and performance. Companies still have the ability to integrate Internet traffic, but the low latency causes remote offices, and even those applications hosted in third-party data centers, to feel like they are on the LAN.
Data centers and cloud providers generally don’t provide dedicated network infrastructure with their cloud offerings, but they are reporting that clients are increasingly purchasing dedicated high-speed fiber connections from separate service providers for accessing these cloud services.
Do businesses leaders understand how important it is to have the right network services?
A recent CIO/Computerworld survey found that 70 percent of IT executives considered reliable, high-capacity bandwidth as a transformational or strategic asset, up from 42 percent two years ago. The majority of respondents believe high-performance connectivity increases productivity and efficiency. It’s clear that business owners increasingly view high-performance network services as a prerequisite for future growth. ●
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Many owners of small and midsize businesses are aware of cloud technology and software as a service, but don’t understand its radical cost transformation. It’s no longer a technical curiosity but a competitive necessity.
“The cloud brings a tsunami of cost-effective IT to the small business’s front door,” says Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. “But it does bring two challenges with it. You have to pick the right partners, adopt the right technology and have good support. And your competition is going to embrace these technologies, so if you don’t figure out how to embrace this your business will be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Smart Business spoke with O’Toole on what to know about software as a service.
Why are small and midsize businesses buying software in the cloud?
IT for small and midsize businesses used to be about scarcity. They couldn’t afford expensive servers and staff to maintain them. Now, the cloud allows everyone to buy applications and services on demand, as they need it. Instead of having a server that may or may not get backed up or upgraded, everything is housed in an industrial data center with strong security and software that is regularly patched.
Also, when you buy a server, you’re buying capacity for the future. But when you buy software from the cloud, you can get it on a per user basis, adding or taking off users as your company changes.
Overall, software as a service allows you to focus on your core business. The cloud can help you get customers and serve them more efficiently, help your back office run more productively and help keep your costs down.
What kind of software applications are businesses getting from the cloud?
Pretty much anything can be managed out of the cloud at this point. Business owners are getting messaging through a hosted email exchange service. They are buying data backup services and file sharing services. With conference services, literally a couple of minutes later you can be doing a conference from six different locations with video and screen sharing. Other applications being adopted are financial and human resources services.
What do businesses need to know upfront?
The biggest things to know are:
- There are a lot of providers out there, but you want to buy from providers you can trust. It’s actually not that hard to start a cloud company, but it is hard to run one well. Sorting through the clutter and having someone vet providers for you is very valuable. Make sure when you put your business information into someone’s hands, it’s someone you trust.
- Have insight on what you intend to do with the system, so you don’t implement one system only to find out you really wanted additional features in a larger system. Also, even though your overall financial costs are lower with the cloud, there are also adoption efforts to consider, such as training your employees.
- Try to buy services in an environment with great user management and support. For example, if you’re using five different cloud applications, you don’t want each employee to need five logins and passwords. From a support perspective, make sure you have a partner on the other end to help with any troubleshooting.
- While a Google search of any cloud-based application or service will give you many listings, it is important to work with someone who can sort through it all. Find someone to ask hard questions of the cloud provider and set the bar high on quality.
What do companies do if they have technical questions about cloud-based software?
Like any technology project, you will have support questions — things do go wrong and there is confusion. It goes back to how you bought your cloud service. You can go to the source and work directly with a software vendor to purchase, onboard and maintain business applications via the cloud. You may get great support, or your provider may not always answer the phone leaving you with a major problem that you can’t solve right away. By going through a cloud expert that has the technical know-how to answer questions and troubleshoot when necessary, you can maintain that focus on your core business while also making your business more effective with the cloud.
Kevin O’Toole is a senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (855) 867-5010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Comcast’s new online marketplace of business-grade cloud solutions with simple access and account management.
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A data center is the infrastructure a business uses to house its IT assets — space, power, cooling, network connectivity, wiring, etc. Depending on the business’ size, it may be a spare closet, a dedicated building or space leased at a public data center.
“The data center itself is infrastructure and doesn’t generate revenue or create differentiated business value,” says Mike Tighe, executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. “So, the CFO frequently says, ‘Rather than utilize precious capital to build or expand a data center, there are other options including great public data centers where we can lease space.’”
Smart Business spoke with Tighe about data center best practices, including network and bandwidth considerations.
Why are data centers so important today, and what’s in store for the future?
The function of a data center is to ensure availability of IT applications and data. If employees don’t have access, they can’t be as productive and in some cases, the business can’t run. The trend to place IT assets -—applications, servers and storage — in public data centers is rapidly evolving for businesses of all sizes, either as a main data center or as part of business continuity strategy.
Over the next five years the trend of renting rather than owning IT infrastructure will accelerate as businesses utilize cloud-based infrastructure and applications. This is not just because of better economics, the ‘cloud’ enables rapid deployment and the ability to scale applications that drive better productivity.
When should you look at outsourcing a data center?
When IT becomes an important component of how you run your business, you have to ensure high availability. If, for example, you install specialized applications used for resource planning and creation of content, but the server starts going down because of power or network connectivity loss, it impacts your business’s ability to run.
Another factor is economic. As businesses make IT decisions, they may not have the capital to build or upgrade data centers, so they’ll look at alternatives.
What are some options to consider with public data centers?
By their very nature, there are more capabilities in a public data center because everyone is sharing the cost of the generator, the physical security monitoring, having multiple network providers, etc. However, some things to consider are:
- Physical security procedures.
- Redundancy of critical components.
- The ability to expand as your IT infrastructure requirements increase.
- Network for primary and backup connections. What providers have extended their network into the data center to provide connectivity and ensure access?
- Location. Regional events including loss of power and natural disasters dictate that the backup site be located far enough from the main data center so as not to be affected by a single incident. Hurricane Sandy certainly brought home the point that a redundant data center far enough inland on a separate power grid helps ensure application availability.
How can companies build the right network?
Strong network connectivity becomes more important as IT assets are put into public data centers. Know how much your company’s bandwidth requirements are growing, and your network’s ability to scale for future requirements. On average, over the past decade, a business’s bandwidth requirements have grown around 50 percent per year. Look at network technologies that can cost-effectively scale — from 10 megabytes, an average site requirement, to one gigabyte, for example. Ethernet technology, which local-area networks are built on, is one solution that businesses are leveraging for their networks.
How do data center solutions impact a business’s bottom line?
With the economic downturn, use of company capital became a focus. Executives decided that the data center, while important, doesn’t produce any intrinsic value. And you can lease the space and preserve capital for projects that improve the bottom line. Companies can rent space by the square foot, rather than having to build another data center as IT needs expand.
Mike Tighe is a executive director, Data Products at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 286-5276 or email@example.com.
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In the aftermath of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy, renewed focus on planning for catastrophic incidents can actually undermine effective preparedness for more likely events and distort perception of risk in a way that makes businesses more vulnerable.
In a spectrum of risks, high-severity, low-frequency events are major natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes. On the other hand, there are high-frequency, low-severity disasters, such as human errors, computer crashes and power outages. Disasters such as fires and floods fall somewhere in between.
“We often focus on the catastrophic risks, those at the far right end of the spectrum,” says Mike Maloney, vice president, Comcast Business Services. “We assume that preparing for the worst-case scenario automatically includes preparation for all lesser risks. But, it hardly makes sense to initiate a full-blown disaster recovery plan every time the business experiences a minor deviation in operations. That is too expensive and cumbersome.”
Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how preparing for everyday disasters can keep your company — and its technology — on track.
Why is it especially important to prepare for everyday disasters?
If you prepare for the everyday disaster, you will also be ready to address the more serious and less likely threats. For example, power outages commonly occur on a standalone basis, such as brownouts during the summer months with peak air conditioning usage, but power outages also follow more serious threats like hurricanes.
How can you guard against human error?
Human error is the most common form of disaster. Of course, the best way to address this is to ensure proper staff training and good management practices. But, you will also need a strategy to mitigate cost when error does occur, such as on-demand, user-generated data backups and clear recovery procedures.
What’s the best strategy for preparing for equipment or third-party failures?
By making good vendor selections and following proper equipment maintenance procedures, you reduce the frequency of occurrence. Also, build in redundancy for when those failures will occur and have extra equipment in inventory.
Third-party failures are the failures of service providers needed to deliver products and services like telecommunications. The basic strategy is to invest in due diligence to make wise choices for third-party vendors to entrust with your critical services, negotiate appropriate service guarantees and support, and build in redundancy to cope with failure when it occurs.
How is planning for environmental hazards extended to more severe threats?
Environmental hazards are conditions that displace staff and could be as trivial as a water pipe bursting and flooding the office. So, plan for human safety and assure the technology is in place to enable temporary remote operations. This concept is extended for fire, natural hazards and sabotage, which pose more severe threats to safety and longer periods of remote operations.
Once you’ve established your planning framework, what’s next?
The next step is to identify the business’s key assets, which may sound simplistic but is not necessarily obvious. For example, a small software development company insured its property, so after a fire, it was fully reimbursed for the replacement costs of office furnishings. But its critical asset was its intellectual property, embedded in hundreds of thousands of lines of software code. The company had failed to back up the software and subsequently went out of business. If it had a severe budget constraint, as start-ups often do, it would have been better served to forfeit insurance on physical assets and invest in off-site secure data backup.
In addition to determining how best to protect the business, this provides insights as to how to better manage the course of normal operations. Several years ago, a disgruntled systems administrator of the city of San Francisco refused to relinquish key passwords to computer systems controlling, among other functions, employee payroll. A little due diligence to understand the key processes, assets and functions of operations might have revealed this vulnerability.
Mike Maloney is a vice president at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Interconnecting three or more sites across a metro or wide area network has traditionally been accomplished via a hub and spoke network using private lines, frame relay or Internet Protocol virtual private networks (IP VPN) over the Internet. However, Ethernet services are a cost-effective alternative that can also support hub and spoke topologies as well as a unique, “any-to-any” network topology.
Both Ethernet methods can achieve secure, high performance multi-site connectivity with full IP transparency, but by weighing the differences in the two methods, you can impact IT operations, management and cost, says Mike Maloney, vice president at Comcast Business Class.
Smart Business spoke with Maloney about considerations and best practices when connecting three or more sites via Ethernet.
Why use Ethernet services in the first place?
Because most applications today are IP-based, you could presume IP VPNs are more suitable than Ethernet VPNs. While both deliver connectivity, there are three benefits of Ethernet VPNs:
• Security — Ethernet services are immune to certain Internet-based threats, such as the popular IP denial of service attacks.
• Quality of service (QoS) performance — Ethernet services run over the service provider’s managed network, resulting in better control, more predictable performance and more service availability.
• IP transparency — Ethernet services don’t require IP routing information to be shared with the service provider, enabling companies to keep their existing IP address with freedom to expand.
What are the advantages of using either hub and spoke or multi-point connectivity?
With hub and spoke, sites connect through the hub site to communicate with any other site. The benefit is centralized traffic routing, requiring simpler and lower cost routers to attach to the spoke sites since these locations only make a direct, point-to-point connection to the hub.
Any-to-any connectivity enables all sites to communicate with each other over the wide area network. One advantage is simplicity in adding new sites to the shared service across the network. Routers at each site automatically discover new sites with no additional device configuration changes.
How can you decide which is better?
In addition to service pricing and availability, assessing your current and future needs will help determine the more appropriate Ethernet service:
• Adding bandwidth — With hub and spoke, you can add more bandwidth until it exceeds the physical speed port, and then, there’s the capital expense of the higher-speed port and possibly additional service cost to upgrade the on-site equipment. However, you can selectively apply bandwidth upgrades to specific spoke sites. With any-to-any, bandwidth is increased at the particular site, which could result in a service disruption at the local site.
• Adding sites — When adding to hub and spoke, the service provider connects the new spoke to the existing hub site, requiring a software configuration change and possibly a reboot. Adding a site to any-to-any doesn’t require service disruption.
• Traffic flow patterns — A hub and spoke approach works well if most of the communications are to a particular site, such as regional sites connecting to a headquarters site or data center. It’s also well suited for centralized IT management of Internet access, email and storage. An any-to-any approach is most sound when regular communications are required between two or more sites.
• QoS performance — With hub and spoke technology, bandwidth, packet latency and packet loss are more granularly engineered and managed per site. Each site’s bandwidth and QoS performance can be unique with each site’s costs more accurately allocated.
An any-to-any implementation enables bandwidth to increase or sites to be added without impacting other connected sites. However, since it is a shared resource, bandwidth, management and QoS performance may need to be monitored more closely. This approach also can support many applications requiring different QoS performance such as IP telephony (VoIP) and IP video.
Mike Maloney is vice president at Comcast Business Class. Reach him at email@example.com.
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The introduction of bandwidth-intensive learning applications, including video and peer-to-peer teaching applications, has fundamentally transformed the way teachers teach and students learn. With funding over the past 14 years from the federal E-rate (EducationRate) program, school districts and libraries nationwide have provided high-speed network access to students and faculty, and deployed learning and teaching applications never before thought possible.
“E-rate–funded Ethernet network connectivity enables the future of education by providing high-speed network access to applications that are hosted elsewhere,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “Both large and small school districts have benefited from E-rate. The most successful districts have developed long-term, comprehensive technology implementation plans that view E-rate discounts as integral, and as only one of many funding sources supporting their infrastructure and curriculum.”
Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how schools and libraries are utilizing technology through high-speed networks to enhance their education offerings.
What is the E-rate program?
A part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the E-rate program has committed more than $20 billion to schools and libraries since its creation. As schools and districts expand electronic curriculum through streaming video and Web-based applications, the demand for E-rate dollars remains strong. Each year, there are more than 20,000 applicants requesting funds for discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent on eligible services, products and e-Education content delivery. This funding has become particularly valuable as school budgets remain under significant pressure.
How does Ethernet technology assist with learning applications?
With Ethernet, a school’s infrastructure will be more scalable, reliable and cost-effective than with legacy technologies such as T1 lines, frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode. Connection speeds can be quickly increased and levels can often be changed remotely to support the high bandwidth the school’s applications need. The technology provides for centralized course curriculum delivery; centralized storage of score and student completion records; attendance tracking and real-time truancy reporting to the district and state level; distance learning, streaming video course content from a central data center; and Internet Protocol (IP) telephony and voice communications.
What are some applications that are enabled because of high-speed technology?
The most frequently deployed technology applications in schools are those that connect content to the student, teacher and parent. The ability to capture, transport, retrieve and store high-definition video has enabled distance learning and safe access to movie file archives from learning channels.
With distance learning, voice-over IP and streaming live two-way high-definition video on large projector screens, the school district can host a French class from a single location to multiple classrooms, for example. No longer is it necessary for a French teacher to be in every school. This allows districts to pool resources. Even access to guidance counselors can be accomplished with an appointment-based telepresence meeting.
By far, one of the most bandwidth-intensive uses of network access is Google Earth. Google Earth offers more than a third of the world’s land surface in high-resolution imagery and requires high-speed access to return refreshed results. Prior to high-speed cable and Ethernet, if every student in geography class performed a search at the same time, the classroom would either be unable to connect or would lose valuable time waiting for the pages to load.
Other applications include:
- Connected classrooms, where high-tech devices allow students to instantly contribute and collaborate on projects with advanced teacher assessment monitoring.
- Intelligent tutoring, where homework can be tailored to individual aptitude, with online interactive learning programs providing tutoring based on student responses.
- Instant feedback to teachers on student performance, identifying difficulties so educators can course-correct upcoming instructions.
- Software-based learning tools for math, social studies and geography, where wireless devices enable the teacher to ask a question and students to ‘enter’ answers virtually.
- Remote access is used by district administration professionals to recertify teachers and rank them in the state school system, while allowing parents access to the teacher-student portal to see lesson plans, homework assignments, test scores and teacher ratings. Remote access can also include virtual parent-teacher conferences and email linking that gives parents access to their child’s attendance record and teacher’s desktops.
How can technology improve the security and safety of schools?
As the risks posed by student access to weapons has changed the way schools protect classrooms, students and teachers, it has resulted in increased use of video surveillance. Video storage and collection from schools requires massive bandwidth. Master video banks can store and retrieve 30 days of footage to allow for the playback of incidents. Applications such as these can help deter perpetrators, impress upon parents that children are safe and possibly lower insurance premiums.
There are thousands of success stories in school districts and libraries across the country. High-speed network connections have transformed education in rural districts, where they are now able to deliver Advanced Placement courses that were once impossible to offer. Public libraries offer patrons opportunities for continued education and professional development through resources available via high-speed network access and through easily deployed Ethernet services offered by local cable operators.
Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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When Dr. Hansen Chang’s medical practice began to grow, he needed to double his office space. Chang, who shares his practice with another physician, opened his medical office 15 years ago as a place where patients could receive expertise in both Eastern and Western medicine.
Within a decade, the two physicians, board certified in internal medicine and acupuncture, had grown the medical practice to six full-time employees, with a patient load of 10,000.
“Our practice was expanding and we were looking to move from a smaller office to a larger location 10 miles away in Berkeley Lake,” says Chang.
Along with the need for a larger office space, Chang’s telecommunications needs were also growing, and the office’s old T1 line was not able to handle the massive volume of data transfer that took place on a daily basis.
Smart Business spoke with Chang about the telecommunications needs his growing medical practice faced and the solution that worked for him.
What kind of telecommunications challenges did you face before your move into the larger space?
We were using a telecommunications provider that provided us with a T1 line. Not only was the smaller office incapable of handling our growing patient flow, but the T1 line, although reliable, was extremely slow and overloaded.
Additionally, medical records are required to be transferred electronically, which was part of the problem. Laboratory services that use email added to the issue. Lastly, the pharmacy needed a reliable connection. We needed a telecommunications provider that could accommodate all of this and make things more efficient with a faster Internet connection.
In a medical practice, security is paramount because we deal with sensitive material and personal patient information, so having a secure and reliable connection was important to us.
Why did you choose Comcast Business Class for the new office space?
We constructed the new office from the ground up and at the time there were no fiber optic lines or cables in the location, so we had to find someone who could build our cable infrastructure and complete it before we moved in. Because we deal with health emergencies regularly, we also needed to ensure that the transition was seamless and that we didn’t experience any downtime.
We evaluated various carriers, but Comcast offered fast Internet speeds as well as Norton Security Suite and Cloud Services from Microsoft, so that made it easy to choose.
The actual switch took place outside regular business hours, when the phone lines were forwarded to an answering service, but it was instantaneous.
We also wanted a private static IP address to access medical records from anywhere — from the office computer, home computers or laptops, so that if an emergency call came through, medical records could be accessed remotely. This private IP would also allow for viewing and transferring data safely and securely.
Additionally, Comcast Business Class provided a bundled phone line with our Internet service so we now work with one provider rather than multiple companies.
How long did the process take?
The planning stage took approximately a month, but it was worthwhile because the process went so smoothly. After that, the actual cutover was instantaneous and was done over the weekend before the new office opened on a Monday.
How has the new system helped your medical practice run more smoothly?
In order to provide a reliable service, we require a reliable backbone. With the high volume of patients coming in, efficiency is key. For example, patients should be able to go straight to the pharmacy after the doctor’s visit to pick up prescriptions, have a lab report emailed directly to them, and all their insurance information entered and sent instantaneously. Without a reliable network, this would not be a smooth process for our patients.
Communication is key in the medical business, and doctors are using more electronic devices and methods to do this. The system works very well now but as the practice expands, there may be a need for increased speed or bandwidth, which can be easily done.
What other factors are critical with the service?
Reliability comes first. Speed is next. Downtime can be disastrous in a medical practice, as missed phone calls from the ER or a pharmacy can be critical.
When dealing with human lives our telecommunications system is critical. To be able to handle any type of emergency, I have to put my trust in my provider’s network.
Dr. Hansen Chang runs an internal medicine and acupuncture practice in Berkeley Lake, Ga. Reach him at doctorsLLC@hotmail.com or (770) 454-9047.
Anthony Catinella is director of sales for Comcast Business Services. Reach him at Anthony_Catinella@cable.comcast.com or (770) 559-2132.
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“The network is your business” has been a mantra for many years, indicating how businesses rely more heavily on being networked among their facilities, data centers, suppliers, business partners and customers.
“Your network enables your business to improve productivity, provide business continuity, increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs,” says Michael Louden, Director of Enterprise Sales for Comcast. “Selecting the Wide Area Network to meet your diverse needs can be challenging, but over the past several years, business Ethernet services have emerged as the optimal choice to best address many applications.”
Smart Business spoke with Louden about how Ethernet services can help improve your network.
What makes Ethernet a good choice for businesses?
Since the initial business Ethernet services were launched in 2000, much has changed. Ethernet services have become more standardized, thanks to the work of the Metro Ethernet Forum. Ethernet services have also improved significantly from their switched Ethernet ‘best effort’ origins. Today, business Ethernet services can provide service performance that rivals TDM private line services, but with the improved flexibility, scalability and cost effectiveness of Ethernet.
One of the most appealing aspects of Ethernet services is that it uses the same fundamental Ethernet technologies that are familiar to IT personnel. Businesses can leverage this to have a common pool of resources to manage both their LANs and WANs. However, not all service providers are created equal, and businesses must be able to evaluate and compare specific plan features to ensure they’re getting the Ethernet service best suited to their needs.
What should businesses consider when selecting an Ethernet service?
Businesses need to evaluate three main components necessary to ordering Ethernet service: Ethernet ports, Ethernet connectivity and Ethernet service bandwidth. All Ethernet services provide these three components to deliver basic service functionality and, for some applications, this may suffice. However, a growing number of applications require more service capabilities such as classes of service, which address the unique service performance requirements for different applications, and service performance metrics. So, to differentiate a specific type of data traffic that you prioritize or use heavily from the rest, you could purchase an Ethernet service with two classes of service.
How do you evaluate an Ethernet port?
When evaluating an Ethernet port, look at the port speed and connection type — electrical or optical. The speed you choose will determine your bandwidth abilities, so look for services that support port speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 100 Gbps. Also keep in mind that you may require bandwidth upgrades to meet future needs. The significance of the Ethernet port speed you select will depend upon your initial bandwidth requirements and your anticipated incremental bandwidth needs for the duration of the service agreement.
How do you select the appropriate Ethernet connectivity?
Services address two basic types of connectivity: point-to-point, allowing a site-to-site connection, or multipoint, which allows any site to connect with any other. So consider how many locations you will be connecting, as well as the type of applications to be supported, application performance requirements and traffic flow patterns.
The type of Ethernet connectivity is closely related to the type of network topology you would like to create and its selection will depend upon factors including the type of applications to be supported, the application performance requirements, the number of locations to connect initially and anticipate to connect over time, and traffic flow patterns.
If you expect a lot of sites to be connected and interacting, multipoint connectivity enables additional sites to be more easily added to the WAN. Additionally, it allows for simple traffic prioritization, effectively supports VoIP and data traffic over the same WAN and better handles applications requiring significant amounts of any-to-any site communication.
How do you evaluate Ethernet service bandwidth?
The Committed Information Rate (CIR) articulates the amount of service bandwidth that will be subject to the service performance objectives in the product specification. Service providers may offer an Excess Information Rate (EIR) or a CIR and EIR for a given service. And EIR-based service with no CIR is a best effort service, with no assurance that any traffic will get through the network. A service with a CIR and EIR will assure that traffic conformant to the CIR will meet the specifications. Traffic bandwidth that exceeds the CIR is considered excess traffic and is provided no bandwidth assurances. EIR traffic may get through the network if there is no congestion.
What are some advanced service components?
Once the fundamental service components are selected, there are additional, more advanced, components to select to ensure that the service best meets the needs of your applications. For example, if you have a call center using VoIP, you may want to differentiate the VoIP traffic from the data traffic used to interact with customers. This could be accomplished by purchasing an Ethernet service with two classes of service.
What other considerations should play into an Ethernet decision?
The service performance metrics indicate how your service will perform and should be an important consideration when selecting an Ethernet service. For example, the frame packet loss should be less than .01 percent over 30 days, and the mean time to restore service should be four hours. In addition, service availability should be 99.99 percent over 30 days.
The use of fiber-optic technology in businesses has spread quickly as businesses look to fiber’s scalable bandwidth to keep up with exponential increases in the amount of data they need to transmit — something legacy copper networks cannot do. According to Doak Field, senior director of enterprise sales for Comcast Business Services, many companies who could benefit from fiber’s bandwidth often don’t realize that fiber is currently available in their area or why they should consider upgrading their network.
“In today’s competitive business environment, speed and scalability are essential to staying ahead of the game,” Field says. “Network connectivity speeds have increased substantially over the past five to 10 years and will continue to increase as more businesses rely on it to successfully run their businesses.”
Smart Business spoke with Field about what you need to know about fiber and how it can take your business to the next level in terms of connectivity.
What are the advantages of using fiber-optic for telecommunications?
There are a number of benefits for choosing fiber for business telecommunications, including:
- For a cost-effective solution, fiber provides plenty of bandwidth.
- The high capacity of fiber provides users with access to bandwidth levels that were only a dream a few years ago.
- Fiber carries a digital signal (rather than analog signal) which is advantageous for almost all applications.
- Its relatively small size makes fiber convenient to use because it takes up less space.
- It allows for much longer distances between amplifiers because there’s no need for continual splicing, which allows for less signal degradation.
- Fiber can be installed next to utility lines, power lines and other areas where interference or crosstalk might normally occur and there is minimal impact.
- Because it is made from glass fiber is not corrosive or susceptible to any chemical breakdowns.
- It delivers Internet, phone, TV, security monitoring and carrying of data traffic all over the same medium efficiently and securely.
How can mid-market companies determine whether a fiber network makes sense for them?
We live in a world where speed to market, speed to respond and quick scalability is the norm. Fiber provides businesses with the speed and the security that a few years ago were reserved only for the Fortune 500. Most businesses are in business to grow and prosper and fiber offers them the ability to grow exponentially without having to make drastic changes to their infrastructure.
Fast, scalable and reliable are three areas that cannot be compromised in the competitive business landscape. Fiber networks are inherently scalable, which allows for any size company to be nimble yet able to proactively upgrade its network as changes in respective markets demand quick action. Fiber is a fast, reliable and secure form of data delivery.
No matter how small a business is, it requires a fast, reliable and secure access to the Internet. As businesses continue to grow, they need subsequent offices and/or locations to have the same access as their headquarters. Fiber provides a cost-effective and virtually seamless way for businesses to connect to as many sites as needed.
What are the important questions for a mid-market company to ask when considering this upgrade?
- Am I still locked into traditional TDM Private Lines, Frame Relay or ATM services?
- How quickly does my network need to transmit, upload and download data?
- Do my bandwidth needs change often or are they fairly static?
- How secure does my data network need to be?
- Do I want my provider to manage my network and support it accordingly?
- Do I need symmetrical dedicated Internet connectivity?
- Do I need redundant paths into or out of my location?
- Do I need and expect 24/7/365 network monitoring and support?
- Is the company I am considering a certified member of the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF)?
- Can my data provider provide me with local support?
- Can my data provider provide me with Online Reporting Tools?
- Do I need to implement Border Gateway Protocol Routing (BGP)?
- Can I get access to Class of Service (CoS) Options?
- Is there a limit to the number of locations my provider can provide access to?
How difficult is it to integrate fiber into a company’s existing infrastructure?
Designing a fiber network and integrating it into the existing copper infrastructure of a business is essentially seamless as there is no ‘forklifting’ of equipment involved. It’s as simple as connecting into a customer’s location with a single pair of fiber cables, one for transmitting and one for receiving, and providing the equipment necessary to convert the fiber to standard Ethernet. Look for a provider that makes the transition from copper-based transmission facilities to fiber optic facilities as simple as plugging into an Ethernet jack on their Local Area Network (LAN).
Doak Field is senior director of enterprise sales for Comcast Business Services. Reach him at Doak_Field@cable.comcast.com or (770) 559-2156.
As your business grows, so will your technology needs. As you’re considering upgrades, it’s important to be aware of all the options available and choose the solutions that can grow with your business and help keep things running productively and seamlessly.
On the telecommunications front, that solution might be Primary Rate Interface, or PRI. PRI is a voice service that is a great solution for a small business with 10 or more employees. Instead of needing a separate line to handle each call, PRI allows up to 23 channels to communicate simultaneously across one single line, says Anthony “Clay” Catinella, director of sales for Comcast Business Class, Atlanta region.
“PRI makes a lot of sense for a growing business that needs a scalable solution managed to their busy schedule,” Catinella says. “The Comcast Business Class PRI solution allows businesses to add channels simply by placing a quick phone call. Many times, no technician or appointment is needed.”
Smart Business spoke with Catinella about how PRI technology works and how to determine if it can help your business.
What are the advantages to PRI technology?
The biggest advantage is flexibility when it comes to how businesses organize their voice service. Businesses with a PBX could start with as little as six channels and could easily add more as the business grows with very little impact, and no additional telephone lines to install.
Another benefit to PRI, especially as you move into a larger business environment, is direct inward dialing (DID). This technology enables businesses to give clients telephone numbers that can be routed directly to employees’ phone extensions instead of through a receptionist or by calling the main number and entering an extension.
What types of businesses could use PRI service?
Any business with at least 10 employees should really take a look at this voice technology. When you have that many employees and you’re looking to meet your voice needs with individual lines, it can start to get very expensive. PRI can help ensure you are giving your employees enough access to outgoing lines when they are needed. It allows clients to reach an employee extension directly, and it offers a simple solution to upgrade voice service as the business grows.
What is involved in the upgrade process?
Once the circuit has been installed, all it takes is a quick call to your service provider to activate a few more channels on the circuit. That activation will give you additional call paths that you can distribute or set up however you like within your business. It shouldn’t require any technician to come onsite, and it requires very little waiting time between when an order is placed and when it can be delivered.
In what situations does PRI provide a competitive alternative to traditional telephone service?
PRI certainly is a great option if a business expects to grow quickly or if it has already invested in voice hardware, such as a PBX phone switch, to best take advantage of existing resources.
PRI also can provide an advantage over traditional telephone service if a business requires the flexibility of changing how its voice service is configured, or if it wants the ability to bypass having a receptionist who routes calls to employees.
What kind of benefits can companies expect from this technology?
If you expect your small business to grow, PRI service helps to meet the needs of your business as you grow.
For companies that are already looking at PRI service and determining the best option, it’s important to consider the whole package. Companies are rarely purchasing voice service without data service. When you pull data into the conversation of whether PRI is right for the company, customers with PRI service typically also have data service over a T1 connection. Today, for a cost similar to a PRI and a T1 circuit for data, you could get a PRI and a 100 megabit cable modem with download speeds up to 64 times faster than a T1 line.
That’s where you could see increased productivity for your employees. You really start to see advantages in terms of the amount of resources necessary to manage the day-to-day business.
Anthony Catinella is director of sales for Comcast Business Class, Atlanta region. Reach him at (770) 559-2132 or Anthony_Catinella@cable.comcast.com.