With the global epidemic of a virus upon us, and generically the workforce being asked to stay home or in isolation, working away from the office is going to a major topic. So, this month I wanted to talk about a few things to keep in mind when setting up spaces for remote access.
Unlike video or music streaming, which has been a major driver for internet data connectivity, the requirement for office data connectivity have some small differences. On the positive side, having a constant high bandwidth connectivity is not as important as we are not running a constant stream of video data. For office data what we really need is reduced latency!
When we access a file, you want it to open almost immediately. When you access a webpage, it should not take seconds to load, but be 90% visible within the first few seconds. When you make a voice call, it should dial, connect and be clean as a normal (traditional) phone call.
All this has different IT considerations that need to be evaluated and accounted for.
On board a yacht, where there is no fibre connection to a high bandwidth local Internet Service Provider, you always have the limitation of speed and latency. And our constant task and battle is to make that limitation look neglectable, or least interruptive.
Let’s divide the internet connection into the 3 main components to be addressed. Bandwidth, Quantity and Latency.
Bandwidth is the first major consideration and is the one that outlines the budget. As mentioned earlier, for office data, bandwidth is not as larger factor as it is for streaming video. For HD video you need minimum 4Mbps for most video providers, per stream! Whilst for office data you can actually get away with about 2Mbps if you are not constantly moving big files back and forth.
Quantity is where your monthly limit will be in question. Here with a cellular link, having a modem that can accommodate multiple cards will be of essence. As this not only assist in bandwidth, here you can mix the expensive world-wide card with a local “throw-away” cards. This will give you another advantage in that local cards tend to have priority over international cards and depending on where you will be sailing to, one company has better coverage over others.
Latency is a major factor in causing those delays, although not enough bandwidth often is attributed to not getting your files quick enough, latency is actually the real reason. You can have all the bandwidth in the world, if the request for data is greeted with a slow reply due to server slaginess or bottlenecks on the internet, it will simply take time.
Latency is caused by the slow link (think satellite… the signal travels about 70,000km only to get to the teleport… that is around 250msec delay each time!). Cellular suffers from lots of interference (start with the salty water vapors around) that also slows the connection.
So, what are the recommendations to tackle these issues?
- Ensure that your link hardware setup is properly done, cellular antennas should be high with good line of sights. Modems that are built for the task, with multiple antennas and multiple SIM cards. A Satellite provider that can give you proven performance of the link, not only over the satellite but their connection to the internet as well.
- A firewall that is able to prioritize traffic, so that you can ensure the guest has priority not only in bandwidth but also in the task… If they are working on office type data, ensure the kids streaming video don’t trouble this. If they are watching sport, ensure that other guests taking photos with their iPhone don’t cause an upload issue!
- Do you need a cache? There is hardware on the market that will help (pre-)load popular websites and office data locally, so that the internet link is actually not as used. It’s a bit of hardware that looks at what is being accessed, and if something is accessed multiple times it stores it locally and only retrieves the changes when needed.
- Ensure that the DNS lookup is also locally cached and kept in line with the more accessible and often much faster services like google DNS (126.96.36.199), cloudflare DNS (188.8.131.52), OpenDNS (184.108.40.206)
You will also find that workers away from the office will need to use a VPN. Most likely if their office has an IT department, they will come with one installed on the Computer. You will need to ensure that your firewall is setup to treat it with priority and definitely no blocking! Also note that it is a VPN only from that computer to the VPN destination point and will not include any other traffic from the vessel.
You can also create a VPN from your firewall to a public access point, but this is more useful if you want your connection to be in a specific country and protected from prying eyes of your ISP. This type of VPN would then be for all traffic or selected traffic from the whole vessel.
Also strongly recommended is that a surge protected power point or better a UPS protected power point is given to the guest, to protect their computer and other devices from accidental power fluctuation coming from the generator. And if you want to give them something extra on their work desk, how about supplying a second monitor, it really helps when dealing with multiple documents.
Finally remember that anyone working away from the office (i.e. on board) will need more than usual office supplies. Ink for the printer, extra paper, pens and pencils. And the undisturbed space with good adequate lighting, away from all the other people onboard simply having a fun time on the water!