by L. Gary Boomer

Quality of service should have been built into the Internet from the start, but it was not. Therefore, accounting firms are forced to deal with inconsistent bandwidth utilization, latency and loss of packets.

To the layperson, this means that their network or Internet access is slow. This may sound too technical for the typical CPA or partner in a firm, but, when it comes to communications and quality of service, you should, at the very least, be able to tell time even if you don’t know how to make the watch.

With technology, it is often what you don’t know that you don’t know that can cost you a lot of dollars. Bandwidth requirements are growing in most firms due to the rapid growth of e-mail, electronic research and, now, Web-based applications such as tax return processing. Large files are often stored on remote servers and may need to be uploaded or downloaded.

And, finally, who would have thought just five years ago that e-mail would become the pervasive, mission-critical application that it is today? Employees are constantly accessing your network, from the inside as well as from outside the firewall.

Quality of service can be achieved in several ways. Purchasing additional bandwidth and using compression are the simplest solutions, but they may only delay the inevitable in some situations. This is known as “over-provisioning,” and it’s something that the big phone companies prefer.

The most effective ways of protecting the communication pipes from becoming clogged are to use “type of service,” “differentiated services,” queuing, or TCP rate-shaping. Of these, only queuing or TCP rate-shaping are effective across the Internet. The others work on internal local-area networks.

While this all sounds complicated, the point is that you should at least explore the available alternatives before simply purchasing additional bandwidth.

The primary reason that most firms simply buy more bandwidth is that bandwidth is cheap, while quality of service is complicated and requires technical skills to implement. It may also require additional or upgraded hardware.

Quality-of-service capabilities now come bundled in many infrastructure products. Furthermore, it is difficult to control service quality beyond your own network borders.

Internally, Gigabit Ethernet is affordable. The major problem with simply purchasing more bandwidth is that once you have it, someone will find a use for it — and that use may not be strategic. We still see firms that do not control music and file sharing.

Point-to-point bandwidth should not be managed as though it were limitless. Forget about the non-business stuff; how many of your people attempt to download five-megabit attachments or, worse yet, send them to a distribution list of several people?

Reasonable policies, education and enforcement of the policies are generally the best solutions to ensure quality of service over your local- or wide- area network or the Internet. Some of the policies you may wish to consider regarding bandwidth are:

● Limits on personal use;

● Limits on files sizes (both sent and received); and,

● Limits on music, weather bugs and radio feeds.

Compression is another way to conserve bandwidth. Graphics files can have their resolution reduced, video compressed with a code such as MPEG, and audio can be encoded at a lower bit rate in order to conserve bandwidth. Another alternative is to use a loss-less method such as ZIP, GZIP or Aladdin’s Stuff/It.

Finally, many firms are considering the upgrade of their phone systems with Voice Over Internet Protocol as an option. My advice is to get a qualified communications expert to assist in evaluating the alternatives, as well as reviewing all of the available quality-of-service options.

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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