All Internet Service Providers Are Created Equal... or ARE They?
You may think that it doesn't matter which Internet service provider you choose to connect your business to the Internet. Think again. Here are some important questions you should ask about the Internet service you're subscribing to.
How many upstream providers do they have?
Any provider claiming to provide business class services should have at least two different upstream providers. No matter how reliable, providers and connections to those providers do fail. We've found that on average a "backbone" connection will fail 2-5 times a year. Without more than one provider an ISP can easily lose all connectivity for extended periods.
We maintain connections to two upstream providers and we plan to add a third. Because of this redundancy we've been able to maintain connectivity even when one of these providers has failed.
Who are their upstream providers?
Are their providers a major carrier like UUNET, Level3, Genuity, Sprint, Qwest, Verizon or AT&T? These providers carry the vast majority of the traffic on the Internet. By using a major carrier, traffic bound for those portions of the internet never leaves these carriers' networks.
We have connections to UUNET/Verizon and Level3. Each of these connections is backhauled to a different part of the country for extra redundancy (UUNET is backhauled to Dallas. Level3 is backhauled to Atlanta and Pennsylvania).
How are they connected to their upstream providers?
Do they have a connection to their upstream provider with at least a DS3 (45Mbs), or do they use DS1s (1.5Mbs)? Connecting via DS1s has several limitations. First, since each customer's traffic is usually limited to traveling over a single DS1, unless the ISP has an upstream DS1 for each of their customers, customers end up sharing a single upstream DS1, no matter how many other DS1s the ISP might have. Second, since it can take 30-60 days to turn up a new DS1, an ISP will have a hard time scaling quickly to its needs.
We only provision upstream connections via DS3 circuits or better. Because of this we can not only efficiently aggregate all our customers' data, but we can easily add additional bandwidth according to our needs. We can currently have our 145Mbs of upstream connectivity.
How congested are their networks?
The amount of upstream bandwidth a provider has is really meaningless if they have oversold whatever amount they do have. How "full" these connections are is far more important than their total size. Do they monitor the bandwidth of their upstream connections and is that information available to you, the customer? Also, what are the policies of the provider regarding the addition of more bandwidth? Will they allow the connections to remain full for a long time before adding capacity?
We monitor all of our upstream connections for bandwidth and for availability. The results of that monitoring are available to customers that request it. We maintain the policy that our upstream connections should not exceed 70% utilization. As we approach the 70% mark, we add more capacity.
Are they an autonomous system with their own IP addresses?
Is your provider an autonomous system (AS), or are they an extension of their upstream provider's network? An autonomous system is a network that is under a single technical administration. To be an autonomous system, the provider must have an autonomous system number (ASN) assigned to them by the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). Autonomous systems connect to each other using a routing protocol called Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).
We are an autonomous system registered by ARIN. Since we are an autonomous system, we have a direct connection to the Internet at large. Your data doesn't have to pass through an upstream network before it reaches its destination.
Does your provider have their own IP addresses assigned by ARIN, or do they use IP addresses owned by their upstream providers? There are a number of advantages for an ISP to be an autonomous system and to have their own IP addresses. First it allows the provider to be truly multi-homed. This not only means that they connect to multiple upstream providers, but all Internet traffic can be routed to any of the Internet connections. This is very important because otherwise even if your provider has multiple upstream connections, your Internet connection may be tied to only one of those connections. If that connection fails, then your connection fails as well.
A second advantage is that autonomous systems with their own IP addresses are not tied to any specific upstream provider. This means that upstream providers can be added or changed as needs arise.
We have our own block of IP addresses. We use the BGP protocol to share routes with all of our upstream providers. This means that your Internet traffic can use any of these connections, depending on which one is the best at the time. Since we are not a subsidiary of any of our providers' networks, we can add or change providers as necessary to maintain the highest quality of connectivity possible.
How do they monitor their networks?
Do they monitor their networks 24 hours a day for problems? How will they know if there is a problem with your connection? Will you have to report it to them before they are aware of a problem?
We monitor all business class services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All connections are checked every 3 minutes and problems are reported immediately via email and paging services. In most cases, we know of any potential problem before the customer does.