The four levels of access
- Dial-up: Suitable for smaller businesses or businesses with a number of locations with a few people at each. Suitable only for one person at a time, with slow access times and speeds of up to 56K.
- ISDN: A faster option, offering 128K by using two ISDN lines at the same time.
- DSL: much faster, offering 512-2048K per line, but not widely available, and performance can fluctuate.
- Leased line: good for businesses wanting to share one line among a number of workers. A typical 2Mb leased line will provide good performance for about 50 people. Websites can suck up this capacity though. A further advantage is that a leased line is 'always on', so there is no need to keep dialling in.
The 10 commandments of choosing an ISP
- Sign a good, enforceable service-level agreement. Demanding 99% availability is not unreasonable, nor are applying penalties where this is not delivered. Specify the ability to dial in first time, every time; a service that does not drop the line; a guaranteed speed of access.
- Ensure that your chosen ISP really does have 24x7x365 support, not just a few technicians with a few beepers.
- Will the account be flat rate or metered? and can you switch easily? Will you be charged extra at peak times? Are there any hidden costs? Are you getting a local dial-up number?
- What is the ISP's 'lock-in' period, and how quickly could you transfer to another ISP if you wanted to?
- Do you need to send big files over the Internet? If so, check your chosen ISP's cut-off point for file size.
- Check its basic physical security: access, fire alarm, pressurised room. Check also for data security measures, such as firewalls, load balancing, daily or weekly backup and server redundancy.
- How fast is the Internet connection and how is it connected? Does this suit your existing technology? How many subscribers does your ISP have and will this affect your connectivity?
- Check that your ISP has its own network backbone and that it is not reliant on any other ISP to carry its traffic around the world.
- Ask about 'cold potato' routing - where the ISP holds on to your data packets for as long as possible rather than sending them at the first opportunity.
- Make sure your ISP service can grow or contract as your company size or Internet/email usage varies. What size are the majority of the ISP's customers and do you fit that profile?