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Our Technical Support team will be out of the office on Wednesday, April 23 starting at 12pm. Tech Support will reopen with normal hours on Thursday, April 24 at 9am. Thank you

Infrastructure Woes


Sorry for the long delay in homepage posts. We’ve been just slammed with projects, orders, fun stuff, award ceremonies, and some infrastructure issues.

Now don’t get confused - the webpage you are currently looking at is hosted on two boxes located somewhere in the world. We’re not entirely sure where. These colo’d servers have a giant pipe to the interweb, with good airconditioning and big backup batteries for power. They should never go down. The internet connection to the SparkFun office building is a bit of a different story…


We out grew our 1.5Mbps synchronous T1 about 8 months ago (~$400 per month).
We added a DSL backup around January that got us around 5.5Mbps down (woot!) and 0.7Mbps up (ugh) for ~$125 (woot!). That lasted us another 5 months before things really started to bind up in May/June.

Over the past few weeks we broke the 60 employee mark! Yay! At the same time, our connection to the internet has suffered greatly. Lots of time outs. Lots of bribing the IT guys. Lots of stress. We've scrambled to upgrade our connection to 10Mbps synchronous (yea!) using Qwest metro optical ethernet (QMOE - ~$1500 a month, ugh), but ran into some major delays. We need a fix today, and Qwest told us 60-90 days! So while we are patiently waiting (and trying to sweet talk anyone we can at QWEST), we found yet another solution called SkyBeam. SkyBeam saved our ass. We called on Monday and I think they had a small rectangular box (it looks like a 2.4GHz WiFi dish) on the top of our building on Wednesday. On top of that, the little dish (pointed at the Colorado foothills) is 2Mpbs synchronous, which is faster than anything we currently have, and is only $195 per month!

It's amazing how much it hurts to have slow internet - possibly worse than no internet. Thank you SkyBeam and thank you SparkFun IT for getting us back our internet fix.

Comments 33 comments

  • The BOFH or PFY have been found and are hiding in your IT crew!
    We have 400 Lusers, single T1, no bandwidth problems at all..
    But! MSN, messenger, facebook, twitter and other such “malarky” get culled at the firewall. Unless of course a voluntary contribution to the ‘Biscuits and cake fund’ is forthcoming, (on a weekly basis)
    The top ten bandwidth users have their logs audited for interesting URLS and the top bandwidth user is automatically sent a “thank you for registering for daily updates” email from hairy-armpit-images.com That usually sorts it…
    There’s even enough bandwidth to run a couple of game servers… Simples!

  • It’s not that expensive. This is an enterprise-grade guaranteed-bandwidth link.
    The links you’re all getting for <$100US/month are not 1:1 commitment. This means your carrier might be selling 100/100 links, but on a 1000/1000 backbone - so if they have more than 10 customers, you’re not all going to get the full bandwidth.
    An enterprise grade link does not do this. The carrier won’t oversell. This is why the bandwidth costs so much - but at least you KNOW you’ll get it. With a 100/100 fiber link for a consumer, it’s “up to 100mbps”. You’ll only get that so long as there’s enough room on the backbone.
    $200/Month for a 2mbit 1:1 link is actually pretty damn good.

    • Its wireless it cant be 1:1, By nature its a shared medium.

      • Wireless can be shared or unshared, just like wired can. Just depends on how you set it up. In fact, the most common wired connection (Ethernet) is technically a CDMA (Carrier Detect / Multiple Access) technology. Prior to having switches (rather than hubs) be cheap enough to buy at your local drug store as an impulse item ? yes, I’ve seen it ? Ethernet was generally a shared medium. In fact, it technically still is a shared medium, just one that now has exactly one speaker and one listener on each line.
        ‘Unshared’ wireless is built the same way; tight-beam directional antennas and receivers, to improve range and prevent stray signals from other sources interfering.

    • Ouch, a 100/100 business class fiber here in Denmark runs for about $380, with a SLA that guarantees the bandwidth all the way through the providers network.
      At work between our data center locations we gave about $1500 for each dark fiber pairs running between two major cities.
      Guess fiber is just damn cheap in Scandinavian in general.

    • Also, don’t ever move to Australia if you value your internet.
      We still have data caps. F***ing sucks.
      $70US/month for a 20mbit/1mbit link and I only get 60GB of download before I’m slowed to 64k/64k :( - and that’s one of the best value plans, our national telco (Telstra) only gives you 25Gb for US$80!

  • I am using Skybeam, they were literally the only service available when we moved into our new home. They have been very supportive. I would recommend you get a very good surge suppressor for the Ethernet feed from their antenna, we have blown 4 routers in less than two years even though Skybeam had their own suppressor on the line.

  • On top of that, the little dish (pointed at the Colorado foothills) is 2Mpbs synchronous, which is faster than anything we currently have, and is only $195 per month!
    Mpbs?

    • Mbps = Megabits per second
      MB/s = Megabytes per second (1MB = 8MBit)
      –Reply to the main post–
      Here in Australia I have a 18/768MBit (sold as 24/1mbit) connection, its about $70 per month (AU) and we get 70GB Bandwidth (35GB peak, 35GB offpeak)
      Problem with AU internet is….
      The telephone lines owned by Telstra (Cough Telscum Cough) are point black crap!
      Every time it rains near my home, our downloads speed up and our uploads slow down :@ because our “pit” (telephone junction box) is full of water.. and the poor linesmen are not able to acheive acceptable results because their hirachy demands perfection in an arbitry timeframe. and as a result the phone line goes to the spark because water gets into the junction box.
      Just bare in mind (as said by someone else) your Wireless connection will be adversly affected by anyform of percipitation, be it, rain, hail, fog, sleet, snow or rainbows.
      Now that I finished writing an SA for a 2 line reply :P I’m gonna fade into the background and order me an Audrino (if I can speel) :D

  • Where I work we have a T3 line (45 Mbps) for 60 engineers. Admittedly we use tremendous amount of bandwidth passing 10 GB data sets across the country.
    It seems to me like there are legitimate work uses for youtube and podcasts at a company like sparkfun. Even if there wasn’t I wouldn’t want to work at a place that blocks audio/video steaming. Bandwidth is a cheap way of making your employees happy. I’m surprised so many people questioned Sparkfun’s bandwidth usage. I’d much rather have smart productive employees who listen to music while they work than disgruntled employees who go home after 8 hours because they someone took away their streaming music.

  • I got to admit after reading this, if your web site is located off site, why do you need so much bandwidth? Is half the company just watching porn and youtube all day ?

  • You probably know this…
    Most cable modem service providers offer a contract for business users. Essentially the same service as top-tier residential, but “legit” and with better promises of service assurance/response times.
    Some small industrial parks lack cable TV coax though.

    • That’s the predicament that the SparkFun offices are in. The local cable company just decided not to install any infrastructure in our office park. No cable :(

  • That’s expensive! I have a 100/20 mbit connection in my apartment (fiber all the way, w00t!) wich costs me about $70/month… I had no idea broadband was so expensive in the US! :(

  • Amazing how the wireless technology blows away all the ground based solutions, when it’s available, yet all the investment is in building cars.

  • That seems very expensive. We (in the UK) have just had our first gigabit fible installed (upgradeable in chunks up to 160Gb) for about GBP 3k a month. Of course, that just gets ut to Telehouse in London and we peer or pay transit on top of that…

  • If you stream a lot of music you should look at proxying the streams. 10 people listening to the same 128 Kbps stream is over 1 Mbps, which you could cut by 90%.

  • Nate, whenever that building in AU opens up, I am SO down to run the entire place. In Aussie land that is. You do a great job with your current surroundings, I would hate to see you out of your element. I will take care of surfing with sharks and the aussie geeks. I hear they are quite aboriginal…..

  • Director of IT here to answer some questions…
    First and foremost our routing policy is pretty open. Giving employees the freedom to goof off shows you trust them and the general morale level at SparkFun is, without hyperbole, the highest of any company for which I have ever worked.
    We’re also a very musically inclined group. LOTS of music streaming going on. It’s been scaled back while we worked through the worst of our connection tightness but it never stopped and it’s always been on the honor system.
    Finally, our entire internal CMS is a web application running on those remote servers so the lion’s share of our operations are done through our connection to the outside. This app, called Sparkle, is a custom build that’s constantly evolving and has had new features and subsystems prioritized over speed optimization. Thus, our biggest beast is not running as fast as it could and we therefore need a good bit of bandwidth for all of us to use it at the same time.
    To update what Nate said though, our QMOE is expected in a much shorter period than 60 days at this point. It’s been pulling teeth to get as far as we have but there is light at the end of the tunnel. =)

  • Sounds like you guys really need some policy based Routing…
    Unless everyone of your employees has a Audio stream opened you should not be taxing your current network.

  • Glad to hear SparkFun keeps growing!
    My appreciation to SparkFun IT as well - I’ve been there!

  • Hmm…
    Those I-Net connections … just relocate to austria - I have a 20/1.5Mbit connection for only 40? a month =) The 25/2Mbit connection would cost only 50bugs^^
    And I’d appreciate having you guys as near as possible =))

    • Austria would be amazing! Don’t tempt us too much. We’re always looking for reasons to open ‘satellite’ offices.

      • Call Me too =)
        Just graduated (secondary technical colledge for electronics and computer science) on Friday^^ So I’d need a job =))

      • Hey Nate, if you are hiring in Austria give me a call!

  • “Only $195 per month!” for a 2Mbit connection!? Jeebus I feel sorry for you guys. I’m currently on a 24/10 connection for ~$50 which should be upgraded to 50/10 soonish.
    Tell you what, if you can get a signal from my wireless router here in Sweden I’ll let you use all the bandwidth you need :P

  • Poor guys. I couldn’t live without my 30/30 Mbps connection ($110/month) - let’s hope that fiber gets more widespread in a speedy manner. Sure, I don’t have any fancy SLAs, but ~6 hours downtime per year doesn’t really bother me that much.

    • Ahhh. That’s like salt on a wound. 30Mbps? Grr. No fair.
      Why can’t internet be free? I promise I won’t run an ad blocker. Really.

  • Richard Hart: Just keep those employees from playing Facebook’s Farm Town. Your bandwidth will widen immensely
    No kidding. I’m one of a handful of IT guys at a medium sized company. We’ve got about 300 employees with computers spread out over several locations. I work at the central location where the pipe from the internet connects. Other locations are connected to us, and use our pipe.
    It is two bonded T1 lines, so 3 Mbps both ways. We never have any bandwidth issues, even with that many users active, and a collection of servers sitting on the same connection.

  • Those dish style connections are ok, but most depend on line of sight. Your actual bandwidth will rely on the weather and atmospheric conditions, mostly.
    I once consulted with a company that connected their branch office this way. Sometimes it worked great, but about 20-30% of the time, it was slow or didn’t work at all, which was enough to be frustrating for everyone. I hope you have better luck.

  • Just keep those employees from playing Facebook’s Farm Town. Your bandwidth will widen immensely


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