Monday, 23 June 2014

"Superfast Broadband"

Business Wales have sent around an email making local businesses aware that "superfast broadband" is being rolled out across Wales and pointing out various benefits that businesses should look into.  They seem to be talking about FTTC and FTTP connections (they don't mention how available FTTP is - I think "not very" may well be accurate).

This is all quite sensible to make businesses aware of what's going on since the less technical businesses may well not be aware of this stuff.  However, the material they've sent out looks a bit questionable to me.  For starters, they've linked to a savings calculator which works out how much you could save by shifting some of your internal equipment out to "the cloud".  One of the provisos they give is "If your organisation hosts more than 1 server it will use it purely for file, print or authentication purposes" but they don't mention anything about what services you're using if you only have a single server - I'm pretty sure their pricing doesn't cover a lot of the services we run on our servers - i.e. one of our servers runs an Asterisk phone exchange, Subversion/Trac revision control, support ticketting system, a name server, email service, etc.  We also have several other servers doing different things, but in principle we could consolidate a lot more stuff onto a single server if we wanted to.

But that proviso also listed some slightly insane stuff - why would you want a print server to be in "the cloud"?  Print jobs can be *huge*, so sending them up over the internet to a print server, only to be pulled down again to the printer seems nuts to me.  Also, your printer is going to need to be connected to the network in order to talk to the print server, so is there actually much benefit in having the workstations talk to a separate print server instead of just sending jobs directly to the printer?

The other thing that caught my eye was that they are saying that servers hosted in the cloud are free.  They are suitably vague about where they're these free services come from - Google Apps, for example, is £33/user/year - certainly not free.

They do talk about the SLA provided by the cloud services, quoting figures like 99.9% uptime, but what about the reliability of the internet connection itself.  This certainly shouldn't stop people from considering cloud services, but you do need to consider that if your business is wholly reliant on a fast internet connection for everything then you're going to have serious problems if that connection is down for a long time.  BT have been known to take several days to repair faults, and whilst you can pay for an SLA that "guarantees" a fast fix, the fact remains that BT frequently miss the guaranteed fix times and the compensation is a pittance (they quote £25 compensation if they don't meet the SLA).  A small office can get by with a 3G connection for a few days if they are just using the internet for some web surfing and email; but this isn't going to work if you're expecting to shift move many gigabytes of files and print jobs between your network and a cloud service.

There's also some blurb about how to choose an ISP, but it seems to muddle lots of bits and pieces together here.  They talk about the ISP hosting your domain, email, website but don't (in my opinion) make it clear that these things might already by hosted elsewhere.  There is no discussion about why hosting these things with the ISP may, in fact, not be a great idea (e.g. tieing your web hosting into your internet service may make changing either one of them in the future quite tricky).

Finally, there's absolutely no mention about IPv6 connectivity.  This is going to become a big deal - the only part of the world that has IPv4 addresses left is Africa, and they are forecast to run out in around 5 years; for everyone else, there are no spare IPv4 addresses - any time an address is needed it has to be repurposed from another service.  There are a few ways of dealing with this problem, but fundamentally everyone needs to migrate onto IPv6.

Pretty much every ISP is going to need to implement either CGNAT or NAT64 as a stop-gap measure to ensure IPv4-only services remain accessible.  However, these technologies are bodges, each with their own list of problems and the only real solution is going to be to move everything to IPv6.

Some ISPs, such as A&A and EntaNet have been providing IPv6 connectivity for years and if you're on one of these and have a properly configured router you don't need to worry about it at all.

Some other ISPs have said they won't be rolling out IPv6 any time soon - for example, PlusNet have said they are going to use CGNAT instead.  As mentioned above, CGNAT isn't really a solution, it's a stop-gap measure with a whole host of problems, so prolonging the use of the stop-gap by not rolling out IPv6 seems extremely questionable.

Most ISPs have remained completely quiet on the issue, and anyone using these ISPs should certainly be concerned since they have provided no indication about how well they have been planning for the future.  To be clear: all ISPs have had almost 20 years to plan and roll out IPv6 infrastructure, so there isn't really any excuse for this not to be well under way.

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