Are you slowing down the Internet?

As my faithful Twitter reader knows, I have been having some issues with my computer attaching to the network at the office. It has been Outlook locking me out, Windows Domain Server locking me out, IT changing the network configuration, entire system going down… etc. Some of these issues were due to the configuration changes that IT is making, some were unforeseen, some were just plain dumb luck.

Something that surprises me though is that for how much we like to cast aspersion on IT; sometimes we are our own worst enemy. By we, I mean the users. Not just at my company but pretty much everywhere IT has a love hate relationship with the users, the users love to hate IT. I am not saying that IT is beyond reproach, but some of the decisions we make, often times it makes it worse for everyone.

One of the most common complaints I am hearing is about the speed of the Internet. The next common complaint is the fact that many IT departments limit the streaming or some of the social network options. These concerns and complaints are all interrelated and is a case of size.

Many offices are connected with a T1 connection, which sounds “fast” but in reality it is not so much. The standard is that a T1 is 1.544 Mbps (megabits per second). The typical upper limit on residential DSL is 3 Mbps. Cable is much faster with an upper limit of 30 Mbps. Based on that it is easy to see why people often say, “The Internet is much faster at home.” Of course the first comment is why not just bring in something other than a T1? Yes, it is possible but for most business they are looking at uptimes and guaranteed bandwidth. Most contracts with a T1 or similar service state you will have a level of uptime or availability as well as guaranteed minimum speeds.

Most residential broadband services rate the speed as “up to 22Mbps” or something similar. They also typically do not have a guarantee on your uptime or availability. The Comcast Guarantee does not have a guarantee for availability or speed; the Residential Agreement also does not have a speed or availability commitment, the only credits occur after a 24 hour continuous outage. The business agreement has the same issue of lacking performance commitments.

So if I were running a business would I rely on a connection that might be non functioning for a day with no speed minimum, or would I rather have a higher availability and slower speed? I would take the one with a real service level agreement of what bandwidth and connectivity will be delivered.

The next item that impacts the speed is the amount of people using that connection to the Internet. At your house where you might have speeds up to ten times faster, you will typically have no more than four people using the connection at the same time. Now compare that to a business environment, forty people sharing a connection would not be unheard of would it? Not only is it less bandwidth but more people are using it

So if there are 40 people sharing a 1.544 Mbps or 1,554 kbps connection, let’s divide it equally. It is now each person getting 38.6 kbps. Remember dial up modems at 33.6 kbps? Now one user decides to stream a video, the typical bandwidth options are 300 kbps, 500 kbps, or 700kbps. If the user decides to stream the video at 700kbps they have effectively used half of the entire T1, okay it is only 45% but don’t forget the rest of the content on the page. So now because of one person everyone is experiencing delivered speed that can be slower than a dial up modem. Remember the bandwidth is shared for everyone.

Yes, the same thing happens in hotels, coffee houses, airport lounges … etc. bandwidth is shared.

So if I was responsible for productivity and availability of the Internet at a business, what is the first thing I would do? Turn off streaming. Why? It is a bandwidth hog and there are typically more important things to use the bandwidth on that will directly impact staying in business.

Yes, I still think that many IT departments make decisions that are not helpful to the end-users. Yes, I think that the help desk often doesn’t. I just want to point out that we as the users are sometimes the problem. Please, before you decide to fire up Pandora or Slacker, or surf YouTube think about if you are slowing down others? Don’t be a bandwidth hog.

My solution? I take lunch after most people and stay later than most. Why? Since everyone has left for lunch or for home, I get better bandwidth. I also listen to music using my iPod.

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