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Fat Data Pipes for Fast Data Transfers
If your business data transfers are pinched by low bandwidth connections, you need fatter pipes for your WAN transmissions.

By: John Shepler

As the resolution of data increases, WAN bandwidth can quickly become a choke point. Think of what happens when you get a kink in your garden hose. The data is the water and the pressure is the bandwidth demand. Any kink causes flow to decrease to a trickle, while the pressure or demand remains. A data link is like a water pipe in this way. Even when the kinks are removed through diligent network engineering, you can only move so much data though the pipe. If you want to move data more quickly, you need a fatter pipe.

Who Needs Beefy Conduits?
Fat data pipes are becoming a necessity as electronic business data increases in quantity and resolution. An example of resolution is medical imaging files. They can easily be many Megabits, even Gigabits, per image. Try transmitting those through a 64 Kbps ISDN BRI channel and you'll feel like you're trying to fill a swimming pool with a kinked garden hose. Engineering firms are also switching from sending large drawings through the mail to transmitting them electronically to branch offices or customer locations. FAX transmissions need only small pipes, like telephone lines. Detailed blueprints and 3-D models that can be printed or modified remotely need fat pipes to transmit them in any reasonable time frame.

Video post production is another field where the medium has gone from film to video tape to digital data on disk. Sure, you can load the production onto video disks, hard disks, or magnetic tape and physically transport them from location to location. But that burns precious time. If you are on a tight production schedule or need to support live programming, a courier service isn't going to cut it. You need to be able to press the send button and have the file transfer in seconds or minutes to another location.

How Fat are Those Fatter Pipes?
So what is a fat data pipe in the telecommunications vernacular? Serious bandwidth starts at the T1 level with 1.5 Mbps bidirectionally. A T1 line will send files of a few Megabytes in seconds. Often this is fine for text based contracts and specifications, low to medium resolution photographs, smaller CAD files general accounting and inventory updates, and many real-time IP security cameras. If you want to transmit more files in the same time, transmit larger files without having to wait hours or longer, or speed up the transfer of what you are doing now, you'll need a fatter pipe.

You can fatten a T1 pipe by bonding in more T1 lines. Bond a second line and you double your bandwidth from 1.5 to 3 Mbps. Bonding works up to 10 or 12 Mbps in many locations before it gets more expensive than moving up to a single fatter pipe.

The next fatter pipe is the T3 line at 45 Mbps. That's a substantial jump of 28x the capacity of a T1 line (the bandwidths mentioned are rounded figures). T3 lines are often used for real time video transport, high resolution images, large engineering files, and data backups to remote data centers. You can get this same bandwidth on a fiber optic carrier, where it is called DS3 service. In fact, DS3 over SONET fiber is more commonly found now than coaxial T3 lines.

Optical Carriers for Really Phat Fat
If your facilities are wired for fiber, there is practically no limit to the available bandwidth. It's primarily a matter of budget, as fiberoptic services start in the thousands of dollars per month and go up from there. But, when time is of the essence or team collaboration can multiply efficiency, even massively fat pipes may well justify their cost. With fiber optic services, you can get OC3 at 155 Mbps, OC12 at 622 Mbps, or OC48 at 2.5 Gbps. In many metropolitan areas you can also find native Ethernet services at 10 Mbps, Fast Ethernet at 100 Mbps and GigE at 1,000 Mbps or 1 Gbps. At these line speeds, the WAN bottleneck can disappear as the speed of the entire network becomes equal.

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