by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, July, 2001
If you are of the Rat Pack (Sinatra, and friends and hangers-on) generation, you are probably thinking of an incredibly politically incorrect reference for an all-female orchestra. If, like me, you are a child of the Rock Era, you are thinking of revivals of old rock bands (as in the recent visit to Chicago of Deep Purple) populated by now-portly original band members, frequently with supplemental new members. Here, it means what is colloquially and generically called the big pipe, otherwise known as a high-speed connection, in this case, to the Internet.

Since my business deals only with businesses and institutions, I was originally going to cover only the pure business aspects of DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service, using a title such as the gentler sounding DSL Heck to differentiate my articles from the thousands already written using the title DSL Hell. However, many businesses are examining, though not necessarily choosing, other broadband technologies, and, the individual employees of many businesses are evaluating methods of home connection. So, I have expanded the subject matter to compare technologies.

Why would anyone bother with looking for a big pipe as opposed to sticking with standard, asynchronous modems? They would bother for the same reason that a fire department doesn't use garden hoses. Fire departments use various sizes of multi-inch-diameter hoses as needed for a given fire. Businesses and individuals should use the appropriate size "pipe" for their needs, too. Please keep in mind that even when I talk about individual use of a connection, I am concentrating on use for business purposes.

The most obvious business use for broadband access to the Internet is for employees who have to do research on the Internet. There is a direct savings in terms of productivity when someone switches from using a dial-up (modem attached to a standard phone line) connection, or worse yet a dial-up connection that is dynamically shared by multiple users, to a broadband connection. Those cartoons of the skeletal remains of a computer user who died while waiting for a response apply here.

From personal experience, I can tell you about, not only the direct loss of time while waiting for a Web page or a downloading file, but also of the indirect cost of the creative loss of a train of thought. Whether it's gathering information for an article, researching a client problem, or designing a LAN, the constant annoying interruptions do take their toll.

E-mail is an even more common use for a big pipe, but one that may be useable with a slower link. There are, however, concealed costs to limiting e-mail connection speed. Large or frequent e-mails can clog the system. Also - it gets a bit subtle here - even people who have no direct need for pure research on the Internet may have a hidden need for regular access to the Internet that could justify a fast connection.

Think about a telephone salesperson in a nontechnical field as an example. On the surface, no fast Internet access is needed. However, that person may conscientiously subscribe to both industry e-mail newsletters and sales technique e-mail newsletters. That sounds perfectly justifiable, and maybe even admirable, but it has speed-related implications. E-mail newsletters these days are often in Web-style HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) format which, after adding graphics and other doodads, are a LOT larger than their simple text brethren. For good measure, newsletters often only have summaries of articles. If you want to see the full article, you click on the link, your browser opens, and even more info comes pouring down the pipe. All of this time, the salesperson is waiting.

Also, a salesperson had better be very familiar with the company Web site, which as often as not, is hosted by an ISP (Internet Service provider) and is only accessible via the Internet. It wouldn't hurt for a salesperson to be intimately familiar with the competitions' Web sites as well. It might even be appropriate to keep track of the suppliers' and customers' sites, too. All of this adds up to a hidden need for a single person who, at first glance, needs only very limited access to the Internet. You need to make this calculation for all employees and use those calculations as the basis for deciding on your Internet connection.

Then there is remote control access to consider. If used simply for remote diagnosis by corporate technicians or an outside vendor (like my firm), the cost of the connection time is that of both the idled employee (or employees, if a server is involved) and that of the technician. If used for access by employees either traveling (via the ever-growing number of broadband links to hotels) or at home (via some form of personal broadband), only that employee's time is potentially wasted on a slow link.

©2001, Wayne M. Krakau