Networking

Still need broadband? Satellite may be the answer

IT managers at smaller companies in search of broadband may find the answer overhead. Improved satellite technology isn't just for the big boys anymore. Randy Barger looks at how it works and outlines whether it is right for your company.


Consider this scenario: DSL, ISDN, and cable aren’t available. Dedicated lines are too pricey. Wireless is limited to line-of-sight. If your company needs broadband, you have another option: satellite. In this article, I’ll cover the basics of satellite Internet technology, its application for business use, and some of the pitfalls to consider.

Two-way Internet access
In the past, satellite connections still required a modem, limiting the speed at which you could upload data. But satellite technology has improved a lot in the last few years, and two-way access by satellite has been available since early 2001. Some of the more affordable satellite options offer approximately 400-Kbps download and 128-Kbps upload speeds.

Business use
As a consultant, I immediately began thinking about the business ramifications of this technology. I know of a great many small businesses, as well as branch offices of larger businesses, that are in remote areas with no access to broadband options like DSL. Would this technology be a viable option for them?

In a word...“maybe.” Let me explain why the answer could also be: “It depends.”

What does it cost?
When you start looking at satellite as an option for business, there are quite a few differences in both cost and performance. Ultimately, the services your business requires will drive the selection process. A small office may only need simple Internet access. Larger companies will need to decide if they want the satellite to act as a dedicated WAN circuit or just connect to the Internet and use VPN to connect to the main office.

Let’s look at the small-business environment first. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll classify a small business as a company with one location and fewer than 50 users. This size company typically can’t afford large expenditures on Internet connectivity. You have an option to adopt satellite technology similar to that currently being used in residential settings. Two recognized players in the residential market are StarBand and DIRECWAY (formerly DirecPC). Since StarBand won’t support nonresidential implementations, that limits the option to DIRECWAY, which is offered through several vendors, including EarthLink. EarthLink’s published prices for DIRECWAY are similar to those for residential use ($69.95 per month for service, $399 for the dish, $199 for installation).

Going beyond the Internet to connect branch offices to the main office raises security concerns. For example, many network engineers aren’t comfortable having a branch office’s connectivity handled by a Windows-based PC because of increased security vulnerabilities.

If you choose the least expensive option as outlined above, you should implement a client/server VPN connection from the host PC. Keep in mind that these vendors don’t support VPN, and performance will not be optimum. This inexpensive strategy will work for your company, depending on what you need. For example, DIRECWAY’s satellite is an option if all you need is access to a Ciitrix server for a handful of users. It probably isn’t an option if you need real-time access to a centralized database for 50 users. In that case, you need to take a look at some of the other vendors in the market that focus primarily on the more expensive types of satellite business applications. Some of these vendors include Axxess Telecom, OptiStreams, eSAT Inc., and Gilat. Pricing and configuration varies widely by company and is difficult to nail down because each company offers different solutions and pricing schemes. You also must usually contact a reseller for a quote. (One vendor I researched offered point-to-point services and had a price range of about $10,000 per site for equipment and about $1,000 a month per link for service.)

The technology has matured, but IT managers must carefully assess the options before launching a satellite initiative.

Is satellite for you?
Are you considering going satellite for your Internet/intranet connectivity? Do you think it’s viable in most enterprises? Send us mail or post a comment about this subject.

 

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