More than you think!
The usefulness of Allscripts and GE Centricity Hosting Services only continues to expand in our lives and workplaces. That’s great as far as convenience and mobility of use, but sure causes a greater and greater demand on bandwidth. Perhaps your office is in a great place right now, staffers sailing along on the internet with no complaints. Good for you.
But if you’re like many of us, you get a daily earful from staff and clinicians on how SLOWWWW things are moving for them online. You feel badly not just from the complaining but about lost productivity, all the WAITING happening for things to load and move. But before getting more frustrated yourself – when was the last time you revisited your office data plan, bandwidth, and pricing? More than a year or two? That’s likely too long and technology has been advancing – read on!
The first thing to do is understand your “problem” – all the work taking place online these days, far more than even 2-3 years ago. Consider the list below, ranked roughly in order of bandwidth usage, though this will vary office by office:
- Cloud Applications – Allscripts and GE Centricity Hosting often requires EMRs, PM, Hospital Citrix applications, Office 365 and other subscription apps. Usually reached by web browser or Remote Desktop sessions, these can carry a steady load of 50-100Kb/sec per user during work periods.
- Printing – printing from the web or applications in the cloud back to local office means the files must download first, and print jobs can easily be 1-2MB each or even larger if color or high resolution. One good sized print job can freeze up the internet for everyone for on smaller pipelines. Basic idea would be the less printing the better – the paperless office! – but if you must then you will have to figure a good amount of bandwidth to cover the spikes of the print jobs.
- Work internet – email, vendor websites, banking are all functions of your staff these days. If large documents are transmitted using email, you’ll need bandwidth to handle. Youtube, videoconferencing, Pandora music to play in the waiting area, all of these streaming type apps can use steady download bandwidth of 1-2Mb or more per instance.
- VOIP Phones – phones relying on servers in the cloud to function. These systems have become more and more popular because they are usually less costly and easier to manage than on premises phone systems, but it requires a good steady 100Kb/sec per phone call to function. So 10 simultaneous calls will require 1Mb of bandwidth up and down, and if this gets jammed too tight your call quality can suffer.
- Software updates and backups – Windows patches, antivirus updates, and online backups of local files are hopefully scheduled for overnights when they would not affect staffers – but that assumes computers are left on overnights. If updates are scheduled and a machine only powered on in the morning, it may download and begin updating at that point, which can put unwanted load on workday bandwidth.
- Personal internet – streaming video or audio, Netflix, Dropbox, personal email, shopping, downloading, and staff smartphones on your wireless – these will quickly fill up your office bandwidth! Most offices and clinics are now setting workplace policy plus using firewalls to filter access and content on the internet that employees can access. Otherwise personal internet use at work will actually slow work internet and all you do.
Know What You Have!
It helps to know how much bandwidth you really have to work with. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will probably only confirm what you signed up for, also known as the advertised “up to” value, as in “up to 50 Mbps” or “up to 150 Mbps.” The best way to determine your real world office bandwidth is to run a through-put test using a site like www.speedtest.net or speedtest.comcast.net. This will give you a snapshot of your current usable bandwidth, but it is important to note this metric will vary depending on how many staffers are online at the moment and what they are doing – it will measure the available bandwidth, not max. Plan to also see slower test results over wireless than for cabled computers.
Something to consider too is that the upload bandwidth speed on your ISP will almost always be less than your download speed i.e. “asymmetric” bandwidth. While this is fine for home users who mainly browse the internet or stream video, it isn’t so good for small and medium businesses. Upload speeds are dramatically sacrificed by the ISPs so that they can boost download speeds. So it’s actually that upload speed number that needs to meet your requirements, because much of what your business does – remote desktop access, Citrix, VOIP calls, file sharing, e-mail, FTP, Dropbox, video – will require as much upload as download bandwidth. And when that upload pipe gets clogged, network misery will ensue – somebody sending a single 5MB attachment over a 3Mb upstream connection can make the entire network grind to a halt for several seconds at a time – and you’ll hear about it!
Since most service providers do not guarantee sustained bandwidth, just the “up-to” value, we recommend adding a 5x to 10x safety margin when ordering the data plan for your office. That way you’re covered for less-than real world bandwidth, plus spikes in demand throughout the day.
Current Broadband Options
If your office is still using DSL for internet you’re probably settling for much less bandwidth than you need and could have, and probably paying too much, too. Broadband is available at most office areas these days, in three forms – cable (e.g. Comcast), phone lines (e.g. Verizon FIOS), or satellite (e.g. Dish). Packages change frequently, generally getting faster and cheaper over time, so you should contact your local cable or phone carrier for the latest pricing. But just to give an idea of where things have come for small and medium business, here are some recent options and a link for further info and comparison.
- Comcast Business plans – 50Mbps download / 10Mbps upload $110/month, can save by bundling cable TV and /or phones. Tops out at 100/20 plan.
- Verizon FIOS Business plans – 50Mbps download / 25Mbps upload $99/month, can save by bundling TV and/or phones. Tops out at 500/100 plan.
- DSL and T1 lines – if your office site just can’t get service from broadband ISPs as above, you have to go with the older technology and just get the most bandwidth you can, within reasonable cost.