Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Yourself Connected - Introduction

I live and die by my connectivity.

I'm a remote worker. I get into my actual corporate offices about once every three months. I need voice and data connectivity for every aspect of my job.

Not only that, but I remotely manage and support dozens of systems, a large number of websites (about 30 domains, and a number of sites per domain), and a couple web forums etc...

Basically all my work depends on me having connectivity, wherever I go.

The good part of that is, I can work from anywhere, so long as I can get that connectivity.

The bad part of that is, I can work from anywhere, so long as I can get that connectivity.

Heck, it seems the only place we're safe from work interruption anymore is in a tunnel.

A couple weeks back we were having our usual Wednesday "friends night", which is about what it sounds like; and one of our guests was a co-worker, who unfortunately had to log in to work remotely a couple times, and spend much of the night walking another co-worker through some configurations on new systems, that he was having trouble with.

Irritating... but honestly, we're used to it.

The upside is, I can take vacations without taking days off; because I can work from the hotel during the day, while the family is out by the pool or summat (okay, some might not consider that a plus... )

Which is starting to bring us to the point of this post.

I used to travel a lot as part of my job. By "a lot" I mean 200+ days a year away from home, 3+ days a week on an airplane. I never hit a million miles in a single year, but I did break 500,000 more than once.

Not only that, but I traveled internationally a lot; and had to deal with maintaining connectivity (and my devices) throughout the world.

Thankfully, I don't have to deal with that anymore; but the experience certainly taught me very firm lessons about what works, what doesn't work, and how much it all costs, when it comes to staying connected while traveling.

So, a few days ago, when a Scandinavian traveler related some of his difficulties in getting data service in the U.S. on a recent trip; I had some relevant advice and experience to share. After writing it up, I thought hey, that might be a useful blog post"... and so here we are.

Step one, define your priorities:

Alright, first we need to define what our key elements of connectivity are, and prioritize them.

Without question, my number one priority is local, national, and international voice calling. My business absolutely runs on the conference call. I can live without data connectivity for a while, but I cannot work at all without voice comms. I need them when I'm mobile, and when I'm in a fixed location.

In my case, I need to call out, more than I need people to be able to call in to me; but some might have a more balanced need there (sales folks especially).

My second priority is basic data services. At a minimum I need to be able to send and receive email, and get remote command line access to my systems. I can go without higher bandwidth services for some period of time if necessary, but they make my life easier, and there are some things I can't do without them (like remote desktop).

Third, I need to be able to connect my laptop to data, as well as getting data on whatever mobile device I might be using.

I need these services while I'm mobile, as well as wherever I am staying; though again, voice is more critical while I'm mobile, and data can usually wait, at least a few hours.

So, that's a pretty clear set of priorities:
  1. Voice comms, in and out, local, national, and international, mobile and fixed
  2. Medium speed data while mobile
  3. High speed data periodically
  4. Mobile device data
  5. Laptop data

Next, let's talk about the technologies and services available to us.

The first thing you need to know, is that the technologies available to you depend on where you're starting from, and where you're traveling to. There are a lot of possibilities here, and they're pretty much dictated by your geography.

Also, I'm going to split voice and data services into two different posts; because although they are definitely related, they are best explained and considered separately.

So, let's get started, this is a big subject...