Bandwidth refers to the amount of data consumed in Internet activities, and as more and more businesses move applications to the Internet (aka “the cloud”), having the right amount of bandwidth is critical. Too little of it, and long hours can be spent waiting for things to load while countless dollars are lost in productivity. Too much of it, and a business could break its budget without any return. It’s important to get the right amount, but determining that amount isn’t exactly easy. We’ve put together a companion to our Bandwidth Calculator to help get you on the right track.
Determining how much bandwidth you use
To get started, you’ll have to do a little research, and determine how much bandwidth your employees use on a day-to-day basis. This is not an exact science, but an estimate based on what Internet operations your employees are engaged in. Most of today’s office users are doing the following:
- Cloud services
- Online banking
- Online research/heavy web browsing
- Downloading/uploading large files
- Online backup
- Remote access/VPN
As a result, most of today’s office users will fall into the “Moderate” or “Multi-Media” category in our Bandwidth Calculator. The categories are listed below, and can also be accessed via the “?” button on the Calculator.
- Light: Basic email and web browsing
- Moderate: Some file downloads, streaming music, streaming video, cloud-based resources, VOIP
- Multi-Media: Large file downloads (high volume), interactive web conferencing
- Power user: High bandwidth demand, intense internet-based application use, multiple devices per user
For a comprehensive breakdown of Internet activities and how they contribute to bandwidth use, read this article.
Determining how much bandwidth you need
Determining how much bandwidth you use is not enough. Oftentimes, there is a substantial gap between how much you use and how much you really need. For instance, an employee might ideally be a “power user”, but due to bandwidth limitations is forced to be a “moderate” user. Conversely, an employee might fall under the “moderate” category when he or she should really only be a “light” user. Not only should you gather information on what your workforce IS doing on the Internet, but what they would LIKE to do on the Internet and what you feel they should be ABLE to do. Technibble.com has provided a great list of questions* to ask towards this end:
- Is VOIP used in the office, and how many users are on it?
- How much email is being sent and received per user?
- Are cloud services being used or should they be used?
- What is the office culture on streaming media?
- Is content-filtering an option?
- Are social media outlets open for usage or banned?
- Does online backup play a role in core backup needs?
- Are any public-facing web servers hosted internally?
The last question involves hosting websites. You can estimate how much bandwidth your site requires by knowing how large your pages are, current traffic levels/target traffic levels, and what you’re going for as far as ease of use and download times. It is always best, however, to consult a professional when determining bandwidth needs for site hosting. (Note: According to technibble.com, usage estimates in their article may be out of date.)
Downstream vs Upstream
Another important aspect of bandwidth is the difference between downstream and upstream. Put simply, downstream = inbound traffic, and upstream = outbound traffic. Downstream levels determine how quickly your computer receives data, i.e. speed of page loading, file downloading, video/audio streaming, etc. Upstream levels, meanwhile, determine how quickly your computer transmits data. Generally, upstream levels are not something to be concerned about, unless you do a lot of uploading (i.e. large email file attachments), host a website, or require remote access to files and computers.
Oftentimes, ISPs offer “asymmetric” service, meaning the upstream data level is lower than the downstream level. Asymmetric service is a good option for those who need good value and aren’t doing a lot of fancy data output. Otherwise, the service will be “symmetric”, meaning the upstream speeds match the downstream speeds. Symmetric service is more appropriate for companies that are hosting large sites and can afford to pay the premium.
Unfortunately, we do not yet live in an age of guaranteed Internet, and it can go down for myriad reasons. You can, however, buy different levels of reliability depending on how critical your connection is for business. In the Bandwidth Calculator, “Connection Reliability” breaks down as follows, with “downtime” referring to periods of no internet access:
- Important: 99.9% or worse (8.77 hours or more downtime per year)
- Critical: 99.99% or better (50 minutes or less downtime per year)
At first glance, a “critical” connection may seem like the option to spring for, but keep in mind that you will pay a premium. To figure out what’s best for your business, determine how much one hour of downtime costs you. If it’s in the thousands of dollars, then you will most likely want a “critical” connection. But if downtime is more of an inconvenience than anything else, you will likely get your best value with an “important” connection. Most businesses, in fact, will find that “important” connections suit their needs (and their budget).
If your business is at a stand-still without internet, “critical” connections usually come with a Service Level Agreement (SLA). An SLA is a written guarantee that in the event of an outage, services will be restored within a specific period of time. “Important” connections, meanwhile, do not come with an SLA and there is no guaranteed time of repair.
If you absolutely need a “critical” connection but are wary of budget constraints, don’t despair – ISPs are more willing to negotiate at this level. In fact, Bandwidth Pool’s reverse-bidding system takes full advantage of that fact by allowing ISPs to view each other’s offers. So if a “critical” connection is necessary for your business, then Bandwidth Pool is exactly the tool you need to secure your best price.
A final hidden aspect of the “important” vs. “critical” dichotomy is asymmetric vs. symmetric service. “Important” connections are asymmetric and flexible in terms of how much upstream you wish to buy. “Critical” connections are symmetric, where the upstream levels are locked to the downstream levels. Please refer to the previous section to determine which is best for your business.
Determining how much bandwidth you get
Now that you’ve reached an educated inference about how much bandwidth (and reliability) you require, you need to determine how much bandwidth you’re currently getting. This will allow you to decide whether, in fact, you wish to explore alternate service options.
You may think you’re paying for so many megabytes a month, but the best course of action is to go to a site that analyzes your data flow and tells you exactly how much you’re getting. We recommend Speedtest.net for fast, free, and proven bandwidth analysis.
- How much bandwidth do I use (what operations am I using)?
- How much bandwidth do I need (what operations would I like to use)?
- Downstream vs. Upstream (do I need symmetric service or is asymmetric service my best value)?
- Connection reliability (do I need a “critical” connection or is an “important” connection my best value)?
- How much bandwidth am I getting (do I need to explore other options)?