Created on 26 March 2012
Please note: This Information Sheet may be outdated
Schools and public service agencies require best value in all areas including broadband services. Could money be saved by using commercial Internet connections, rather than a regional broadband service or a Public Service Network?
This paper assists a like-for-like comparison between commercial internet and public service broadband providers.
A regional broadband service is more than a fast Internet connection; it is a strategy to provide equitable, high-performance, tailored broadband connectivity and educational services across a locality or region. Economies of scale and detailed local knowledge provide a bespoke service.
Data must travel the whole path from your site to the distant application and back; the local connection, the backbone, internet and security devices must all be free from bottlenecks.
Connection Bandwidth: Sites differ in their broadband usage. Some have steady email and Web flows; others may often upload data (remote backup) or download (software updates).
The regional network gives you the flexibility to choose the bandwidth you require.
Applications: All facilities such as firewalls, filtering systems and email relay provided with your broadband service need to be scaled for the throughput expected.
It is much cheaper for the regional network to design, procure and manage complex, high capacity services, than for individual sites to procure such services themselves.
Rate of growth: Public service agencies are reporting rapid growth in bandwidth demand. A typical growth rate is from 30% p.a. to 60% p.a. over the past decade.
By aggregating broadband requirements, regional networks can upgrade capacity at a much lower cost than singly purchased services. Upgrade costs are shared between many sites.
This is where the technical details are more important than the sales talk! Schools must be confident that potential suppliers have answered these requirements satisfactorily: Contention Ratio: There should not be any capacity headroom limits from site to the Internet, and back, including filtering and security services. Commercial ‘business broadband’ is nearly always contended at some point, which is how they can reduce prices. Suppliers need to be open as to what is being provided.
The regional network monitors all connections and services 24 x 7 to ensure enough capacity for each site connected is always available.
Regional networks can use multiple suppliers to ensure best value, for instance one supplier may have developed better infrastructure in a particular area. Virgin Media, BT and other Telcos have different coverage and services that will best suit particular areas.
Data Transfer limit: There must be no limit to the amount of data transferred. In commercial contracts this is often a “fair usage” clause. This could prove expensive for a busy office.
The regional network has no data transfer limits.
Symmetry: There must be sufficient upload and download bandwidth for your purposes. Videoconferencing, learning platforms and remote data backup require high upload bandwidth. Video streaming and web research require high download bandwidth. Schools’ requirement is moving towards symmetric bandwidth i.e. equal upload and download, over time.
Most regional network fibre and LLU circuits are symmetric (same upload and download capacity) which is ideal. Some of the new high-capacity asymmetric services are also satisfactory having substantially greater upload bandwidth. However the standard ADSL circuit performs very badly in educational use.
Latency: Voice increasingly uses the broadband connection and places strict demands on the time delay (latency). Videoconferencing will replace travel to meetings as fuel prices rise.
The regional network has very low latency and jitter. It is already used for voice and is also engineered to support high quality videoconferencing.
Public services depend absolutely on email, calendars, intranets and shared services for their operation. Cloud services depend utterly on reliable connectivity. The public increasingly expects access on-line to Council services at any time of the day or night.
Reliability: The broadband service availability must be specified in the contract and the service must work reliably in bad weather.
Regional network backbones are fully resilient from their Points of Presence to resilient Data Centres and to the Internet and Janet. Janet and the regional networks deliver a resilient National Education Network connecting schools, FE colleges, universities and selected public services without traffic touching the Internet
Fix time: Full service must be restored rapidly after a break and access from the start of the next day is important. How do you establish if the supplier really can deliver the reliable and rapidly fixed service they advertise?
A regional network will restore service within 5 hours. Regional networks are monitored and managed 24 x 365 with Network Operations Centres identifying faults across the network and to the managed router at the school. The majority of network faults are fixed without the customer having a service interruption and without them having to raise a call to the support desk.
Security and Safety: A balanced approach including policy, education and systems strategies is required. Does the supplier actively provide you with access to all the services you need?
Email traffic between sites on the regional network is more secure as it does not touch the internet (e.g. inter-school or school – LA mail).
Difficult technical, legal or policy issues can be shared across a region as well as nationally. This is particularly important for security issues as corrective action can be established and implemented once for the benefit of all, rather than every site having to take individual corrective action.
Traffic pattern monitoring on regional networks looks for unusual events and enables the edge site to be warned if it appears to have been the victim or a cyber attack or there is other unusual activity from an on-site network.
As a result of aggregation services can be offered regionally that are not available individually. Some networks offer Security and Vulnerability Analysis and reporting to customers with Internet visible servers. Similarly IPSLA reporting enables sites to see the quality of their connectivity as well as their bandwidth utilisation.
Safeguarding: Unless on-line activity in a school enhances learning and is safe, it is an expensive toy. E-safety policy and educational materials are required to work closely with the internet access services which will include filtering.
A regional network will have a comprehensive e-Safety programme as part of its service.
Lowest cost or best value? Public service users make considerable demands on a network. Do you require a standard internet connection designed for the commercial or domestic sector or a wider range of services? Will the supplier add services required by your school, or must you engage a separate supplier or provide them within the school? Has the school the expertise to specify the broadband services required and select and manage the supplier(s)?
The regional network will discuss with schools what they need and design a whole solution that is purchased to obtain economies of scale and reduce procurement costs. New developments can be rapidly brought into service – for example a new BT Next Generation Broadband service can be enabled as it is rolled out area by area.
Advice and Support: Wide area networking, security and safeguarding expertise is still relatively rare. Public services require responsive and business aware advice and support.
Regional networks collaborate together to provide expert help and guidance to partners as part of the service.
Contract management: Are the contracted service levels clearly stated? Is service delivery monitored and reported regularly? What are the penalties for poor delivery?
A regional network service will require detailed monthly reports from its supplier and penalties for non-delivery will be enforced.
Innovation: Does the supplier design a service around the needs of the schools in the area, or just sell their standard service? If a school, a library or local government office are neighbours, would the supplier be able to design a single shared connection to reduce costs?
The regional network will act as an informed purchaser on behalf of schools and increasingly also for public sector establishments.
Local points of presence create a wider range of connectivity options that cannot be purchased by a single site. For example if several schools share a common telephone exchange, the regional network can create new services (a point of presence or PoP) providing new, lower cost options to all public service sites, as well as schools. A school acting alone would not provide the telecoms provider with a sustainable business case.
Replacing a managed network with a simple commercial Internet connection is not straightforward. The implications for site connectivity and service provision are significant, in terms of the level of work required to set up and manage its contracts, manage its externally provided services and to support any services it decides to bring ‘in house’.
The true cost of ownership, i.e. including staff time, of the same level of network services and management offered by the regional network will need to be calculated.
Additional resources would be required to:
Multiple contracts for connectivity and services will be required that:
|ConnectivityInternet (without capacity limits?)
Configurable Internet filtering
Email filtering and relay
Legally sound procurement
Strong supplier management
Centrally hosted administration applications
|Single sign on – accounts and password management for servicesRemote backup and managementWebhosting
Safeguarding policy, advice and education linked to filtering configuration and profiles.