By Bill Buchanan
Determining your bandwidth requirements or options can be a challenging task, especially for churches with limited or volunteer IT staff.
As a senior or campus pastor of a church, remember that your IT staff is primarily dealing with items such as: the internal network (making all of your computers, printers, and other network devices work), audio and visual equipment, and in the event of multi-site environments, the network applications needed to produce a broadcast quality live video stream.
These are critical priorities as they present the visual image of the church to members and guests (who you would hopefully like to become members).
In our experience, we see the IT or “tech” people getting assigned tasks that often don’t fall within their areas of comfort. When this happens, the results can be short of what the initial expectation was, and the amount of time spent by the staff/ volunteer would have better been spent perfecting their areas of expertise.
One such area is determining the bandwidth requirements and the connectivity solutions available and what they mean to the church. Not all Internet connections are equal.
Is the connection a fiber-based connection with the ability to have symmetrical bandwidth (speeds) up and down, or is it a copper facility with technology that limits upload speeds and is shared across a number of customers competing for the same bandwidth at given times of the day or week?
It is also worth noting most of the time the advertised bandwidth is an “up-to” speed that, in reality, can be much slower due to congestion by high volume usage, or limitations in the physical network in the case of a copper-based connection.
Some companies may offer connections with “SLA’s” or Service Level Agreements that guarantee minimum levels of service which are outlined in the contract. These types of agreements tend to come at a cost, but depending upon the application, may be a great option, especially when live streaming broadcasts to multiple sites is the growth model of the church.
Typical ISPs willing to enter into these agreements have a great amount of redundancy in their networks and, in turn, more reliable. Depending upon location, you may even need to look to non-traditional ISP options to meet your bandwidth needs.
In a conversation with Ryan Brenneman, director of operations for Lighthouse of Hope Church in Cumberland, Maryland, he shares the following,
One of the quickest things that I learned is that not all connections are the same, and there are a lot of variables within each step that need to be accounted for. In our case, we have one cable provider who is not among the big three, and the connection was expensive and slow. The advertised upload speed was 5mbps, but the actual results were much slower. With data uploads being key to a successful stream, we needed to look for other options. We were blessed to have a new visitor who is the vice president of a company that pioneered data delivery through a series of towers in our region and his company provided us with a 20mbps symmetrical connection (up to 300mbps if needed). Our leadership, because of their “perceived simplicity” of the network, had to be educated about latency issues (from our original connection) and the benefits of a symmetrical connection (with our new provider). Having a symmetrical 20mbps connection fits our needs at Lighthouse of Hope Church in Cumberland, Maryland.
Once the connectivity is in place and the Internet connection is stable, reliable, and taking care of all of your streaming needs, consider utilizing that bandwidth to place server applications in the cloud.
Cloud-based services allow the staff to free up valuable space in the tech booth, equipment rooms, or other closets they may be hiding servers in. Although there are many, one application that may be good to consider hosting in the cloud is the NVR (network video recorder), which records a specific number of hours or days of CCTV security camera footage. In case of multiple locations, this (cloud-based NVR) may be the best option, as it eliminates the need of hardware devices at each location, reducing the costs associated with management, setup, and overhead.
Another consideration for cloud-based NVR is your ability to secure this device. If you lack a secure location with limited access, you may look to cloud-based options, as well. Although cloud-based options come with a price tag, it’s good practice to evaluate the true cost of purchasing, managing and upgrading your on-site hardware.
Remember, without a good, reliable Internet connection, these types of options become frustrating to your tech people and end up costing more than just money (especially when those “tech” people are volunteers).
In considering bandwidth options, other items that have an impact on your bandwidth needs are: VoIP phone or unified messaging systems, streaming audio from web-based playlists, and other streaming applications being utilized throughout the entire church, as well as each staff members’ own applications.
As a final thought, don’t forget to plan for future bandwidth needs as you grow. More and more Internet-enabled devices that communicate without human input are being introduced to the network and video streaming applications are allowing for higher image resolution, demanding more from your Internet connection in the future.
Bill Buchanan is the president of MTC Communications, Inc., www.mtccomm.net. MTC Communications uses a fiber optic network to deliver voice, digital video and high speed Internet at the speed of light.