Collaboration Drives Bandwidth Requirements
Virtually colocated business
teams can function as an entity provided they have the right
tools and connectivity.
By: John Shepler
Online collaboration is becoming more and more
important as teams diversify and spread-out worldwide. The notion
of a workgroup consisting of a colocated team all sitting in
one room has morphed into the virtual workgroup with ad-hoc members
linked electronically instead of face to face. This new paradigm
has orders of magnitude more flexibility, but to maintain the
efficiency of a tightly knit interactive team requires collaboration
tools that are fueled by bandwidth. The bigger the team, the
greater the challenge and the more demanding the links.
Colocation: The Ideal and the Reality
Consider what you achieve with two people or a small team in
close proximity. You have instant voice communications, including
facial expressions and body language. Everyone can gather around
a screen or a prototype to critique or bat around ideas. Documents
can be handed off, literally, by arms reach. You also develop
a certain esprit de corps by close association toward common
Well, that's at least in the best of situations.
In larger organizations it's just not possible to have everyone
within earshot, especially when they need to be in different
facilities. The lab, the factory, the warehouse, the client's
office and so on are geographically spread out. Now add-in the
customers, the suppliers and outsourced efforts. Soon nobody
is within earshot of anyone else.
Web Collaboration Advantages
Fortunately, most important information is now generated electronically
and is handled in its native format. Physical proximity doesn't
mean so much to a network. The person sitting at a PC down the
hall seems no further away than the person on a laptop in the
airport a thousand miles distant. We can leverage that speed
of light communications to include voice, images, video, instant
messages, email, instrumentation, and even manufacturing equipment
control. Web collaboration software allows far flung team members
to see and mark-up documents just as they would with marker pens
in a conference room. Plus, nobody has to run copies and mail
them for overnight delivery. Remote printers give everyone their
own copies almost instantly.
Most collaboration tools are standardized
for IP transmission, the corporate LAN standard. What you need
to do is extend that LAN to cover multiple sites, remote workers,
suppliers and customers. As the LAN leaves the facility it becomes
the WAN or Wide Area Network. WANs can be the big bottleneck
because costs go up quickly with distance and bandwidth.
WAN Bandwidth Options
If only a few locations are involved and they must communicate
reliably with heavy use, private lines can make the most sense.
A private line is just that. It's a dedicated connection between
two points with exclusive use of the bandwidth. The most common
private lines are T1 lines running at 1.5 Mbps bidirectionally.
Being used exclusively for private transmission, that bandwidth
may well be enough to support web sites, email, IM, Web-based
video conferencing, VoIP telephony, and document file transfers.
If T1 bandwidth isn't enough due to huge
filesizes like you find with engineering design and simulation
of large systems, or a need for real-time high definition video,
you can move up incrementally or in discrete steps. T1 lines
can be bonded to get multiples of 1.5 Mbps. Above 10 Mbps, fractional
DS3 or full DS3 at 45 Mbps is another commonly available increment.
You may also be able to get native IP transmission with carrier
Ethernet, depending on location. Ethernet WANs are 10 Mbps, Fast
Ethernet is 100 Mbps, and GigE is 1,000 Mbps. With GigE between
sites, it's hard to imagine running out of bandwidth on the network.
When usage is sporadic, it may be more
cost effective to employ virtual private networking over the
Internet. Each locationconnects via a T1 or DS3 dedicated Internet
service and all data is encrypted for security. This is probably
the lowest cost mesh network you can achieve, because most the
network is a public utility. If you need committed information
rates rather than the Internet's "best effort" service,
an MPLS private network can give you highly reliable and predictable
mesh connections, where every location can communicate with every
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