Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Hump - Bringing it all Together

May and June look like big months for Fabfi Kenya. Following last month's realization that their 5Mbps of dedicated backhaul was shared to the point where it looked a lot more like 1Mbps most of the time, the Nairobi team has been focusing on a plan to secure the future of their network.  In-particular this means supplementing their connection with more bandwidth.One way or the other, this crisis has been very effective in motivating the completion of a few things that have needed doing for a while.

First, the business end of the team recently submitted the paperwork to incorporate FabCom as a legal entity in Kenya -- an essential step to dealing with other companies. (yeay, legitimacy!)

Second, the team has created relationships in Mt. View to become a preferred provider and identified a number of new sites that will expand coverage to most of the estate. (yeay, Demand!)

Finally, Tom has been hard at work building a dashboard to enable enterprise-class monitoring of network performance. It was the first efforts in this arena that originally led us to understand our bandwidth problem:

An initial look at his graphs provided no easy answer.  Usually when a network is saturated one sees a flatline on the graph at peak times.  Our graph showed nothing of the sort, yet users still complained. The trick to solving the problem was a pair of realizations: 1) We don't have enough users to assume average rates, and 2) it turns out we don't have a dedicated speed either.  Real time testing showed speeds slowing to 200kbps at times.  Obviously this is no way to run a network!

So What's next?

Tom and I have been working on a new firmware build that will happily manage another connection (hello, iproute2) as well as provide better performance data.  In the meantime, Nick has been off finding the best deals on more bandwidth.  The challenge is scale.  Prices begin to decrease, I am told, as we begin to buy larger connections (5Mbps and more).  Thus, the Nairobi team is preparing to quickly triple or quadruple the number of users.  At the 40+ user level we expect to be able to pay for the bandwith with breathing room for more expansion.  

Now to getting that done...