Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Larger companies have unique requirements when it comes to selecting an Internet service provider

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #355 August 13, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    Last week, we looked at how to select an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for an individual or for a small business. If you've got a small organization with a relatively small network, you may want to look at a scheme for sharing a single modem or ISDN connection among your users. For example, the new version of Artisoft's popular Lantastic network (7.0) allows all workstations on a network to share a single Internet access. Be aware that while this is much more affordable than providing each user with individual access, users are sharing a limited amount of bandwidth. A couple of users can access the Web at one time while a few more are checking their e-mail, but beyond that, performance will drop too much to be practical. Still, this may be an affordable solution for many small networks.

    But if you're looking for Internet service for a big organization, you have special needs. Some of the questions you need to consider are the same, but on a larger scale. Others are unique to large, networked organizations. You'll do best if you consider your needs and future plans, and then gather information on your current capabilities before you go shopping for an ISP. Think of the bandwidth you need, both now and for future expansion, but don't even think about phone-line/modem connections, except for supporting employees on the road or working from home. Even medium-speed ISDN connections at 128 kbs are probably too slow. Instead, consider getting a 1.54 megabyte/second T1 connection (about 60 times modem speed) or an even faster T3 connection. Some service providers will sell fractional connections--a piece of a T1 connection, for example, but check prices: you may find a full T1 connection only slightly more expensive. The speed of connection you need relates to the number of employees you expect will be using the Internet at any one time.

    So what Internet services do you need? If all you want is to provide your employees with Internet e-mail, you may be best off with a dedicated e-mail service, such as Vancouver's Electric Mail Company (926-7783), for much less than the cost of a "real" Internet connection. On the other hand, you may want to establish your own corporate domain name, or provide other Internet services.

    Make sure you know your needs, and only pay for what you need. Can you save costs by letting your own people handle installation or technical support? Or are you best off contracting these services with your ISP? If so, what level of technical support can it provide? Is it available 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Is there tech support that specializes in corporate customers? Can it help you set up and maintain an effective fire wall to isolate your company's internal network from the rest of the Net?

    Involve your network administrator. Be aware of the hardware you already have, and what you'll need to add. Be aware of availability of spare parts for when--not if--you have a hardware-related problem. Can your ISP provide replacements on an emergency basis?

    Since you'll need to work with the phone company in adding that T1 or T3 leased line, who does that work--you or the ISP? Do you need to connect branch offices or out-of-town facilities? What provisions will you make for employees who are travelling on business? Can they connect to your network from Toronto? New York?

    Depending on the importance of this issue, you may want to contract with a larger, national service provider rather than a strictly local firm. Even more than small organizations, large outfits probably want to establish their presence on the Web, so you'll need to register your own Internet domain name, and develop a Web site. Can your service provider help with these tasks? Should you be looking at one of the many companies providing Web site design and consulting? Should you be doing this on-site?

    While some ISPs pride themselves on providing a full range of services, you may want to get different services from different providers. Although cost is clearly an issue for big organizations, focus on questions of technical support, security, and future expansion when looking at a way to connect your organization to the Net.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan