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1 Broadband Satellite: Enterprise Class or Cookie Cutter? There are a wide range of broadband satellite services available from a wide variety of network operators. What are the differences between them? What should an enterprise look for in trying to select the right broadband satellite service for their business? Is price the only consideration? This article reviews idirect-enabled services provided by a variety of operators, but the basic principles should apply to services from other technology vendors. How are they similar? How are they different? Does it matter? What questions should be asked? Service Plan Options Among service options are those that are usage based, and those that are unlimited. Residential services are often FAP d or subject to a Fair Access Policy that sets limits on how much traffic they can transmit or receive. When the limits are reached the service is slowed to dial-up speeds for a period of time until they build up credits and can again operate at full throttle. This may not be acceptable when important business documentation must be transmitted to meet a deadline, or the entire office is essentially off the net at the most inopportune time. Some services are usage Service Plan based, offering a lower monthly recurring cost for a MIR (down/up) 1.5M/256k 1.5M/256k 2.04M/384k given service level, but charging additional fees CIR (down/up) 256k/64k 320k/96k 384k/128k when usage levels are exceeded. These services do not lend themselves to Throughput allowance 2 GB 4 GB 6 GB predictability and can result (down/up) in unexpectedly high fees. Tight controls are required Overage/MB (down/up) $0.10/MB $0.10/MB $0.10/MB on users, since Skype sessions or video traffic will eat right through traffic limits and incur large charges. Unlimited services will generally have larger monthly fees, but no FAP or fees for usage. What s important here is how well the operator manages their network. An enterprise class operator is going to want to know how a client expects to use the service and what kind of traffic they intend to pass over it. This operator will want to ensure that the client buys enough capacity to handle their intended use. They will want to understand how many PCs will be active, the number of active VoIP lines, webcams, video conferencing, specific business applications, etc. A service provider who does not manage their network carefully often ends up with an oversubscribed service and insufficient revenue to upgrade it. Often these new services start great, but degrade rapidly as new sites are added when capacity does not keep up because the operator didn t match client s needs to the right service level. Business Satellite Solutions Page 1 January 13, 2015

2 CIR, MIR, BIR Why Care? Once upon a time, there were no TLA (three letter acronym) options to be concerned with in the broadband satellite business. VSAT circuits started off as dedicated services, providing connectivity from one point to another. Over time shared services were developed so that a provider might service a large number of credit card machines or ATMs or lottery terminals at gas stations and convenience stores, etc. Dedicated bandwidth for transaction applications like those would be wasted, since not all of the sites would actively be conducting transactions on a non-stop basis. Only some percentage of those transactions would be active at any given point in time at multiple sites, so methods were developed to share bandwidth for all those random transactions, such that sites needing bandwidth could share it at lower costs for all. CNC Network With the advent of the Internet and a desire for corporations and large organizations to use IP networks, broadband satellite technology pioneered in large part by idirect, advanced to make the sharing process more efficient, Customer A Customer B migrating from transaction based sharing technology to Customer C broadband IP sharing technology. This was designed to Customer D Customer E work in such a way as to support the kinds of things Customer F businesses and people want to do on the Internet as well as Customer G Customer H support business applications that were originally designed Burst to run on private WAN networks. Business applications often have widely different bandwidth, latency, jitter, reliability and security requirements. VoIP (Voice over IP) for example, must have bandwidth available at all times during the connection, and it must be delivered smoothly and evenly without jitter, or it will be noisy with static, echo, and disconnects. and web surfing or web-enabled business applications generally perform best with bursts of bandwidth unlike the steady flow of voice and video. The key is having the flexibility to support the organization s applications with the right services. Contention Ratios This introduces the first important concept sharing ratios or contention ratios. That is the number that determines how many sites are sharing a certain amount of bandwidth. If an operator puts up a 1Mbps outbound (download) service and sells 1Mbps services to 10 sites that would be a service with a 10:1 contention ratio. If they took that same 1Mbps and sold 512 Kbps services to 20 sites or 40 sites with 256 Kbps each, they would all still be operating with a 10:1 contention ratio. Add them all up, and divide by the amount of bandwidth being shared to get the contention or sharing ratio. The contention ratio is generally based on something the operator will call BIR or MIR. Ratios may range from 4:1, 2:1 or even 1:1 when consistent bandwidth levels must be available to support bandwidth intensive business applications, high definition streaming video, or local ISPs or large Cyber Cafes. At 8:1 and 10:1 sharing ratios the typical site is a medium sized office, while at 20:1 or higher it s typically a SOHO (small office/home office) or residential class service (whose contention ratios are generally not advertised). BIR/MIR and CIR BIR or Burstable Information Rate is the amount of advertised bandwidth available to a site such as 1Mbps or 512 Kbps. BIR is not guaranteed, because in our 10:1 example, 9 other sites are sharing it. MIR or Maximum Information Rate, a similar term, is essentially the same thing, providing the maximum speed that the modem or service is configured for. Sites will rarely if ever go over the BIR or MIR. It s important to note that how much BIR/MIR a site can expect to get on a consistent basis may vary widely. At a minimum, a 10:1 service, for example, Business Satellite Solutions Page 2 January 13, 2015

3 should deliver at least 10% of the BIR/MIR on average, even during peak busy hours. A site may get occasional bursts to the BIR/MIR level, but will seldom if ever get sustained throughput at those levels, particularly on a loaded network during peak busy hours. Now the tough one: CIR or Committed Information Rate is really where most of the cost of an Enterprise Class service comes from. CIR is supposed to be guaranteed bandwidth. You should never get less bandwidth than your CIR rate, but can you depend on that? First why is CIR important? Aside from ensuring a certain level of service regardless of how busy all the other sites sharing bandwidth might happen to be at any point in time, CIR guarantees that your site is always up and operating at some measurable level of performance. Often of more importance, CIR guarantees that certain applications, particularly real-time applications like VoIP will operate with business class quality and reliability. If it s real CIR, that is. Some operators oversubscribe their CIR, just as they oversubscribe the BIR/MIR. They look at historical data and see that when averaged over time, CIR may be idle for some percentage of the time so they sell more CIR assignments than they really are able to support if all sites requested their CIR at the same time. This is seldom a problem for normal data traffic because over time, the site will generally average at least its CIR level. It can be a problem for applications like VoIP or video conferencing that require dedicated CIR instantly when they are active or they will not be able to guarantee business quality voice, or support other critical applications. CIR is something that is normally configured by the operator when they set up the site. Whether and how operators actually set CIR up in the configuration file may be open to question; and there are different options regarding how CIR will be applied. The idirect bandwidth allocation mechanism uses CIR to determine the fairness of the shared bandwidth allocation, which essentially says that the more real CIR that a site is assigned the greater amount of shared BIR the site is likely to get. This is reasonable as much of the expense of a service is in the CIR more expensive because it must be there when needed. Many operators create cookie-cutter services, with the idea that all sites will fall into some model and they may utilize the idirect GroupQoS capability to create small homogenous networks that all look the same and deliver calculated CIR based on sharing ratios, but perhaps not real configured CIR. For example if there are 10 sites sharing 1Mbps on a 10:1 service, each site should get at least 102 Kbps, but will they get much shared bandwidth (BIR/MIR) above and beyond that if all 10 sites have large numbers of PCs and other devices? Probably not. Sometimes all a service may deliver is the calculated CIR, and little or no additional shared bandwidth or BIR/MIR. Calculated or Configured CIR? Maximum in kbps MIR:CIR CIR in kbps Downlink Uplink Ratio Downlink Uplink : Business Satellite Solutions Page 3 January 13, 2015

4 To this author s way of thinking, if the bandwidth isn t there exactly when you need it, then it s not Committed and is not really CIR. An Enterprise Class service delivers configured CIR that is not oversubscribed and is available when mission-critical applications require it. It also delivers shared BIR/MIR over and above the dedicated CIR level. Knowledge and experience Who do some operators not offer true enterprise class services? Mostly because it s difficult. It takes both IP expertise and satellite expertise to deliver reliable, enterprise class services. Many operators are good at one or the other, but not both. Take VoIP for example. In order to operate reliably it must be properly prioritized using the idirect QoS (quality of service) and other advanced features, discussed in idirect s white paper: VoIP Over Satellite Using the idirect Technology. Setting up VoIP or other applications to use these features requires expertise on the part of the network operator s engineering staff. If the operator has not configured real CIR, then applications like VoIP may not operate properly even if they are correctly prioritized. Many operators elect to run cookie-cutter QoS profiles, and any request to change QoS to match a particular setup usually falls on deaf ears. Creating and managing custom QoS setups for every remote is labor intensive and adds additional load to the processors in the Hub. It can also be due to the VoIP provider s ignorance when it comes to satellite links. They may not understand why clients might want to run more efficient codecs such as G.729 into remote villages over satellite, and have little idea how to help the satellite network operator configure QoS to guarantee voice quality. An Enterprise Class Service Provider (ECSP) will have engineers who are familiar with the IP protocol and how to identify and prioritize specific business applications. The ECSP is willing to put in the additional hub processing power as needed to guarantee an enterprise class service. Business Satellite Solutions Page 4 January 13, 2015

5 Customized services An Enterprise Class Service Provider is going to offer customized services when required, such as delivering additional CIR on an upload for CCTV streaming surveillance video sent to a data center, or a VLAN configuration to support multiple, independent, workgroups, or design of a private network for a client with multiple sites that share bandwidth between each other, and not with other commercial clients. The idirect operating system offers flexible and useful features, but some are labor intensive activities that only knowledgeable and experienced engineers can leverage. Users are unlikely to find this kind of support in cookie cutter services. Similarly many businesses have critical applications that are the primary purpose of the broadband satellite circuit, but they find that the bandwidth is all being used up by Skype or YouTube, peer-to-peer file sharing, or web browsing that is not critical to the business mission. An Enterprise Class Service Provider is going to take the time to help identify the critical applications and apply QoS to prioritize critical traffic over non-critical traffic to help ensure business goals. The alternative is often to buy more bandwidth hoping to fix a performance problem only to find that non work related applications eat up all the additional capacity without improving the primary business applications. Service Level Agreement Another point of differentiation is in the presence or absence of an SLA or Service Level Agreement. Some contracts have endless pages of verbiage, which upon close inspection basically promise to take your money, and that s about it. An Enterprise Class Service Provider is going to provide an agreement that promises to deliver a certain level of uptime, and they will provide credits when and if there are outages. Managed services ECSPs will often deliver managed services, sometimes deploying remote appliances that optimize traffic through compression, caching, etc. and that help provide insight and control deeper into the client s local network to help address performance questions, viruses, spam or other issues. Some organizations require a completely private network isolated from the operator s commercial service, such as a VNO (Virtual Network Operator), but don t really want to be a network operator preferring to focus on core business goals, so an ECSP may manage the private network for the client. Service and support Finally an Enterprise Class Service Provider is going to focus on customer service and support, providing a 24 x 7 x 365 NOC (network operations center) with rapid response times and experienced knowledgeable engineers to work on any issues. ECSPs tend to develop business partnerships and personal relationships with clients, helping them to accomplish their business goals. The ECSP will spend time with the client on planning & strategy for growth or addition of new applications. ECSPs often provide a wide range of options for clients, sometimes delivering Cookie Cutter services where they are the right solution, as well as Enterprise Class services, SCPC and other satellite services from other technology providers, always recommending the best solution based on the client s requirements. Business Satellite Solutions Page 5 January 13, 2015

6 Conclusion As we ve discussed here, there are a wide range of broadband satellite services available to enterprises. We ve looked at some of the differences between the services offered by different providers and discussed what an enterprise should look for in trying to select the right broadband satellite service for their business. Often it turns out that price is not the only consideration if the requirement is to have a low maintenance, reliable service that delivers the optimized, properly configured bandwidth needed to meet the organization s goals. This paper was authored by Patrick Gannon, President of Business Satellite Solutions, LLC. Business Satellite Solutions is an advanced technology solutions provider, delivering enterprise-class broadband satellite solutions to business and government clients. Copyright 2015 Business Satellite Solutions, LLC. All rights reserved. Company and product names are trademark or registered trademark of their respective owners. No part of this publication may be reproduced, photocopied, stored on a retrieval system, transmitted or translated into another language without the express written consent of Business Satellite Solutions, LLC. The information contained herein is believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed to be complete or correct. Business Satellite Solutions Page 6 January 13, 2015

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