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On joining Allies Computing to head up our DevOps team, it didn’t take long to realise that there’s a downside to being based in a converted barn located on an attractive rural Norfolk business park: exceptionally slow internet connectivity.

As a company offering software and service solutions, having internet access is vital to the business. We obviously need all the basics such as working email, telephony and access to the web for customer support; but also need to regularly upload and download reasonably large data files along with packaged builds of our applications.   All of our customer-facing services are delivered from the Cloud, so we’re not trying to host anything locally etc. but slow connectivity is a major cause of delays to many things we do.

For a bit of background, we’re based on the Manor Farm Barns business park; located in the beautiful Norfolk village of Framingham Pigot around 4-5 miles outside of Norwich.  Our site is surrounded by trees and fields, and we share the grounds with the multi-award winning restaurant & wedding/event venue, Brasteds.

Typical SpeedTest.net result

The idyllic location does however come at a cost in terms of exceptionally limited available services for (affordable) fast internet connectivity. For many years now, our office’s needs have been served by a single ADSL broadband line; delivering roughly 6-7Mb/s downstream and a paltry 0.7Mb/s upstream bandwidth. Although this kind of bandwidth is probably sufficient for a office with a few people browsing the web, it’s far from ideal when you have a team of people trying to maintain remotely-hosted services and deliver large data files to customers. It’s even more annoying when the surrounding villages have nearly all had their infrastructure upgraded to support FTTC with connections routinely delivering 35Mb/s downstream and 7-10Mb/s upstream.

One of my priorities over the last few months has been to investigate what options may or may not be open to us to solve this problem – examining everything from whether our local telephone exchange & cabinet infrastructure is ever likely to be upgraded to offer “superfast broadband” / FTTC through to bonded solutions running over multiple ADSL lines and gold-standard solutions such as commissioning a dedicated fibre-optic leased line.

Fibre to Cabinet, BasingstokePerhaps unsurprisingly, we were soon able to rule out mainstream options such as upgrading to FTTC broadband (or even ADSL2+ for that matter) for the foreseeable future as the equipment serving our location is not likely to be upgraded for a good few years.  Attention then switched to the more exotic forms of connectivity – including multi-line ADSL bonds and fibre leased lines. With previous experience of bonding ADSL connections, this wasn’t really a route we wanted to go – especially as in the future we’re keen to also move away from our ISDN30 telephone services; and running SIP for voice over bonded broadband connections doesn’t usually tend to work particularly well.

Keeping ADSL bonding in reserve we started to investigate the costs around commissioning a fibre leased line; potentially also installing some sort of site-wide wireless network to share the line & therefore its costs between all businesses on-site.

If you’ve never been involved in commissioning a leased line, as an exceptionally brief primer, the cost side of these tends to be a blend of vendor-quoted service install & rental charges along with costs known as “Excess Construction Charges” (ECC’s) which are quoted for after you place an order. Whereas setup fees typically incorporate the cost of any CPE network termination equipment & engineer time to connect things up,  ECC’s tend to represent the true cost of physically installing your new connection – digging any necessary trenches, running ducting, pulling fibre, engineering crews, cable jointing and the like.

Essentially, the further you are away from existing network infrastructure operated by your selected vendor, the higher the ECC bill is likely to be as there will be more engineering effort involved in extending the vendor’s network to your premises.

optic

The slightly bizarre concept is that it’s not possible to get a complete quotation for a leased line, including setup / rental & ECCs without placing an order for the leased line. Vendors will quote all sorts of variations around monthly service rental charges & setup costs ranging wildly from £0 through to many £1000’s, but none of these are really meaningful until you also have an understanding of whether your new £0 setup connection will also require £10k worth of ECCs to get it to your door.

The way this works is that on receipt of an order, a survey will be conducted to assess the required work and raise a price for the ECCs that particular connection will incur. This quote does come with a silver lining however in that customers have the right to cancel an order if ECCs would be payable but means that ordering a connection can normally be a lengthy process drawn out over several months from start to finish.

After many conversations with telecoms providers of all shapes & sizes, it soon became apparent that we were a long way away from any established infrastructure belonging to a major vendor and with ECC’s anticipated in the ballpark of £80,000 on the table we were effectively back to the drawing board in terms of finding a solution.

At this point, we were basically down to three options:

  1. Stick with ADSL, eg. do nothing.
  2. Accept the downsides and implement bonded ADSL.
  3. Come up with another option!

We didn’t really want to go with Option 1 as that slightly defeated the point, and also scuppered plans to adopt more cloud-hosted services and migrate away from on-premise Exchange etc.

Option 2 was likely to be an expensive way of making a bad situation a little bit better (ultimately, you need a lot of 0.7Mb/s ADSL lines to get a sensible amount of bandwidth) but is reasonably simple and easy to implement.

Which left Option 3.

This post is part 1 of several…to be continued!

 

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