I often hear data center and bandwidth conversations focused on just one thing: volume. Focusing only on volume (1 Gig? 10 Gigs?) to determine your data needs, though, is a bit like focusing only on the number of seats when you’re buying a car. Yes, it’s an important number, but it’s only one of many factors a business should consider.
Other considerations that should be part of any data center bandwidth conversation include critical business needs, essential network features (including privacy), and the quality of your connection.
Start with Critical Business Needs
It’s hard to know how much bandwidth a business requires without knowing exactly what that business needs to do to be successful. This is why I recommend starting the conversation by identifying mission-critical applications and processes that rely on the internet or moving data between two or more locations.
These requirements vary widely by industry and business types – a SaaS organization is likely to need significant upload and download capabilities, while a payment processor may have special privacy concerns. A major sales organization may need high availability to use a platform like Salesforce. A consulting firm that uses its website primarily as an advertisement may need only a bare-bones connection.
To determine your organization’s critical needs, define what your employees couldn’t do their jobs without. Once you have a sense of that, it’s time to determine which kind of internet connection might best meet your data needs.
Consider Privacy, Security, Latency, and Redundancy
When you’ve defined what your employees need to be able to accomplish over your internet connection, it’s time to consider which type of connection might best meet their needs. If, for example, your business offers digital trading, low latency is going to be a high priority. This means you may want a direct fiber connection.
If you’re in healthcare or payments, privacy and security matter. This means you might want certain functions handled via an in-house data center or private cloud.
If uptime is your biggest concern, you’ll want fully redundant connections. At some point, after all, a serious storm or errant construction project will take down your primary connection. It happens all the time, unfortunately.
To return to the car analogy, there are many ways to get people from point A to point B, but the circumstances of their trip will dictate whether the best vehicle is a Ferrari or a Kia Rio. Just as with a car purchase, price will be a factor when purchasing bandwidth – but it shouldn’t be the only one. This brings me to my final point.
Consider the Provider
Once you’ve identified which kinds of connections will best serve your business needs, it’s time to choose an internet provider. Options have consolidated in the last decade, but businesses still have a fair number of choices.
You’ll notice as you compare providers that there isn’t one set price for a gigabyte of data – but that doesn’t mean the least expensive option is the best. I recommend considering the following factors as you compare options:
- Service and responsiveness: What will happen when you call your ISP to report an outage? Some will know before you do, report what they’re doing to fix it, and check in with progress updates. Others won’t know anything’s wrong until they get your call and won’t bother updating you at all. Be sure you know what to expect from the provider you choose.
- Network setup: This can affect performance. If you aren’t comfortable evaluating a provider’s setup yourself, be sure to enlist someone who is so you can be confident that the provider you choose has the flexibility to accommodate your needs over time.
- Relationship with the rest of the internet: At a certain point, some parts of internet infrastructure are shared among all service providers. Because of this, the relationship your carrier has with other participants matters. A bad relationship could end up hurting your business as you struggle to get quality service across multiple provider networks. Get clues to an ISP’s relationships with other players by searching the web for the ISP name and “peering” for news articles and other information. You’ll want to consider the network size, number of peers, number and geographic distribution of peering locations, etc. ASRank and Hurricane Electric also offer useful information.
To evaluate these factors, spend time talking with representatives from each provider you’re considering. Compare notes on who you talk to and what they say. If you’re in a building with multiple tenants, ask about their experiences with various providers.
Meet Your Data Needs by Thinking Beyond Volume
Just as different car buyers prioritize different features (safety, speed, fuel efficiency, etc.), different businesses have vastly different data needs. Notably, these go beyond simple measures of data volume.
As you seek the right bandwidth for your business, be sure to consider the full spectrum of your data and internet needs.
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