Question: When should I consider installing a T1 and what technology will be required?

Many small businesses take their first steps into the online world when they subscribe to a digital subscriber line (DSL) service. While this is a very cost-effective technology (a T1 line costs about four times more), DSL has limitations. The most basic is that the majority of implementations, especially in Canada, are in fact ADSL, or asymmetric DSL implementations. This means upload and download speeds are not the same. While a typical download can be as high as 3 mbps, a typical upload speed reaches about 0.5 mbps. (Actual speeds may be lower and depend on the distance from the central office.)

This ADSL speed imbalance is designed to accommodate a typical Web browsing experience, where a user sends short requests to the Web server and receives long responses back in the form of pages, file downloads and other multimedia. ADSL falls short for businesses looking to host their public or extranet site on their Internet connection rather than outsourcing it to a hosting service provider. Neither is it a great fit for companies with a mobile work force; employees who must access corporate resources from home or from a hotel typically find the download speed of home or hotel broadband service much higher than the upload speed of the ADSL connection at their offices. This inequity results in a degraded experience and means the ineffective use of an employee, customer or business partner’s time.

It is at this point that many companies start searching for an alternative to ADSL. The dominant upgrade choice is T1. T1 service provides consistent 1.5 mbps speeds for both uploading and downloading and is not dependent on the distance from the central office. It also is based on a much more robust and reliable technology than DSL, and will usually be offered by the ISP along with a service level agreement that will guarantee service availability, restoration times and other support parameters.

Most ISPs will bundle the required router along with the T1 service, as they commonly would with ADSL. But the router is only the first piece of the puzzle in establishing a strong and secure Internet connection.

The most common and obvious component to sit between the router and the internal network is a firewall, which takes on the role of gatekeeper in protecting the internal network from most dangerous and easiest-to-launch attacks. A residential style firewall (that may have been used on a company’s ADSL connection) will no longer be sufficient for the more sophisticated services to be supported by the T1. A more expensive, business-class firewall will be required.

Once the firewall is in place, it is time to consider the types of services that will be offered over the T1, and what technology solutions should be implemented to not only perform, but also secure these services.

For example, if secure remote access is required, a very popular solution is to implement a SSL VPN gateway. Over the last few years, secure socket layer (SSL) virtual private network (VPN) gateways have become the common choice for both SMBs and large enterprises when implementing secure remote access to corporate resources. They rely on the same SSL encryption mechanism that has been long used by e-commerce shopping and banking Web sites, and they eliminate the need for a VPN client to be installed on every remote PC. Remote users can securely access pre-approved corporate resources using their standard Internet browser instead. Obviously, as with the router and the firewall, the model of the SSL VPN should be sized properly to handle the T1 speed and the anticipated number of concurrent remote users.

If a Web site or e-mail server will be hosted on the T1 connection, the server performance should be adequate to handle the T1. Typically any Pentium 4 or equivalent system will do the job, but if additional security layers are planned to protect the Web site or e-mail from worms and Trojans, additional or faster servers may be required.

In the end, SMBs require technology that will, when the time comes, allow them to take their businesses to the next level in online efficiency and customer service. Purchases made out of frustration (the minute an Internet connection starts dragging, for example) are never a good move. SMBs should evaluate their requirements and consider any IT purchases carefully. This has always been the best way to get the right technology at the right price.

Jakov Zaidman is president of InterLAN Consulting Inc., of Richmond Hill, ON.

Got a question for our experts? E-mail smbexpert@itbusiness.ca.

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