Emerging Technology

Bandwidth Overkill

While discussing a school project with a cabling contractor, they suggested that we needed to provide 10Gbps fiber connections between data closets. My response was “Why?” His response; “Because the students and teachers need it.” My response was “No, they do not.” At that point I realized that most new construction projects for schools are continuing down a path that started more than 30 years ago.

In the 1980s, we saw the standardization of data network connections. In the 1990s, there was a race to see how fast we could increase the connection rates. In the middle of the 1990s, the web browser was created and the cost of a network card for your PC dropped to around $200. Away we went and started networking everything.

Everyone was captured with the concept of buying more powerful computing devices, faster data cabling and faster data port speeds. We should take a break and remember that all of us have complained: my computer is so slow: my network is so slow; my Internet access is so slow (and the list could go on).

The trend of buying faster computers and faster connections continues to this day without any consideration of whether we actually need it. I am as guilty of it as the next person. I currently use a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (now outdated by the Pro 4). From a dead start to running Windows 10 and Office, it takes around 20 seconds. From a soft start (hibernate), it takes only a few seconds to bring up my log-in. I do not run any applications requiring intensive computing power.

However, the flexibility of using it as a lightweight touch screen tablet, laptop or desktop unit in a docking station with a large monitor is why I bought it. Not only is my computing device more than I need but I can’t wait for my Google Fiber connection — 1Gbps connection speed for $70 per month. Oh My! Streaming high-definition movies to my 4K TV and surround sound system or downloading a new experience for my virtual reality goggles is around the corner.

That is what we see above the surface of the WWW. Below the surface, invisible to the users, is a multi-billion-dollar segment of the market focusing on two things. 1.) Predictive analysis of what content is in demand, where are those users located, and where should the WWW copy the content and place it on a storage appliance near your smart phone? 2.) How can we reduce the amount of data it takes for your smartphone to display the information you have requested. Less data means less time required to transmit what you have requested.

The WWW is an extremely complex, chaotic (no one entity in charge) system that constantly adjusts itself in an attempt to meet your expectations. The geeks behind the curtain continue to improve its performance.

While the “gaming and infotainment” world is looking for more and more; schools are needing less and less. With the exception of Career and Tech content areas, digital resources and content applicable in schools have moved en mass to the World Wide Web. It is all in the “cloud.” Those applications and content in the cloud use the predictive analysis and data reduction/compression methodologies developed for your smartphone.

So what does a school district actually need? No one in the WWW industry will give you a definitive answer. However, a number of school districts have moved to a total digital environment, and they are willing to share what they have found. A clean connection to the Internet without any delay for any user requires 100Kbps for every user. So a 1Gbps connection to an Internet Services Provider (ISP) services 10,000 users.

Now that we have quantified the real bandwidth requirements for a user in today’s school “cloud” environment, let’s apply this to the conversation at the beginning of the article. How many students, teachers and staff are in your building? If it is 1,000 users, then 100Mbps is more than enough speed.

What? I have 1Gbps on every data port. Even my new Wireless Access points run the new standard at that speed. If all of the users in the building were connected to one wiring closet (which never happens) a 1Gbps connection between wiring closets would handle all of your needs. So why use more expensive single-mode fiber and 10Gbps connections between wiring closets? Just wondering.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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