Saturday, January 07, 2006

As I work in Indonesia/Singapore as an IT consultant and auditor (mainly IS Security), I've gotten used to receiving a number of interesting IT related questions from my clients and friends. As I want to run a few regular sections on my Blog, I had an idea of a regular section that might be very useful to many. It is simply called "Ask Marek", where I will try to answer on all possible IT related questions from my readers. The idea certainly comes from The Slashdot. However, in difference to Slashdot, the answer here will be provided not by readers commenting on the post, but by me. However, feel free to post your own opinions in comments section. FYI I can not answer on all the questions I receive, yet I promise I'll try to answer on at least one question a week (unless I'm on holidays).

I received a very interesting question from Michael: How to set-up Internet connection for my SME office in Jakarta? Thanks Michael for this question. (Malcolm, I hope part of this article will answer on your question related to getting relatively cheap and efficient Internet connectivity in Jakarta; Volker, I also hope this will explain your question of connecting your office to Internet).

In a typical SME (Small/Medium Enterprise) office with less than 50 employees, normally the following Internet related elements will be required to support your business:

  • Internet connectivity,
  • Company’s e-mail access,
  • Company’s web-site.
Let’s analyse these elements one by one.

Internet Connectivity Getting an inexpensive, reliable and fast connection to Internet in Jakarta is a great challenge. Unfortunately, Indonesia has one of the worst data network services in Asia and so to speak in Indonesia is in the medieval age of the Internet era - it sometimes feels like network packets are being transporters by camels. Overall, the local Internet connection comes with terrible quality of service and for truly insane price; the Internet connection is terribly unstable and overall it is an Indonesian Internet disaster. Thus, if you plan or already do business in Indonesia, just get over it, calm down, don’t shout in the poor ISP customer care employee calling the them crooks … and accept the fact that what you get here in Indonesia is far worse from what you’ve seen in Singapore, Malaysia or any other neighbour countries. If Internet connection is crucial to your business, face the fact that lack of proper Internet connectivity has scared number of potential investors away from Indonesia and while India and South Korea are generating incredible revenue out of investment in fast and cheap Internet connectivity, Indonesian government does not seem to notice the important of Internet these days, and maintains the state described above.

Yet, if you are the lucky one to be already running SME (Small Medium Enterprise) business here and still need to find some way to receiving e-mails, sending data to your branch office in Europe or US, or download documentation from HQ in Japan, here is my advice.

First, when you look for office, strongly consider the Internet availability. Lots of companies when looking for office in Jakarta are only considering the cost per square meter of office space and distance from CBD, while forgetting that the cost of Internet connectivity can be in fact much higher than office rental itself! The Internet connectivity these days is as important as or even more important than a phone line, thus first think about Internet and later about the price per square meter of your office. Thus, if you need fast Internet connection to support your business operations, look for the office space at the following locations (in the same order):
  • first of all, office buildings where ISPs have their NOC (Network Operation Centres),
  • office buildings where ISPs have their office,
  • office buildings near location where ISPs have their NOC – best if you can see the ISP office from your window.
The reason is that if you are smart enough or lucky and have an ISP NOC in your office building, you can just simply connect your office network to the ISP network via LAN (network) cable. This saves ISP lots of hassle with local monopoly telecoms, protects your connection cables from being regularly cut during ground works and incredibly your Internet connection will remain stable during the rain! Certainly, all this resulting in CHEAPER and more stable Internet connectivity! Base on my own experience, ISPs often provide a very good deals for companies located in the same building and since you will be connected with ISP via LAN network cable, you will not need any modem or router, helping to reduce expenses even further. Great, isn’t it?

However, if there is no ISP having Network Operation Centre at your office building, maybe there is still a chance for having an ISP branch office in your building. Such office is often connected connected to the Internet via direct link to NOC. This option is not as excellent as the previously mentioned option, yet the chance of getting discounts on the Internet connection from ISPs is much higher.

If two of the options above do not apply to you, there is still a chance of setting-up wireless connection between your office and the ISP office/NOC. Thus, check if there is any ISP around your office that you could connect to via wireless connection. It is certainly best if you are in visual contact with the ISP office from your office window. If not, the installation of antenna on the roof will be most likely required and unfortunately you will have to deal with building management - in Indonesia this can often be very stressful experience.

Anyway, here is the list of ISPs that you may try to contact. Just check with the ISPs on the best location of your office (possibly where they locate NOC) and try to negotiate the best deal for your Internet link before getting the office.

If unfortunately none of the above is relevant to your situation, I advise to check if you can get Internet connection to your office via Kabelvision or TelkomVision. Overall, the Kabelvision connection is often very slow (with all ISPs), but base on my experience, it should be enough for office with less than 15 employees. The big benefit of Internet connection via Kabelvision connection is that you can chose the ISP providing Internet connection via cable and most of all the service is very cheap comparable to other options. I would also recommend asking around or even testing yourself which ISP at the location provides best link via Kabelvision. Oh, I’d also like to mention that I personally like to use Kabelvision as a backup-connection just in case the main Internet office link is down. It is also possible to reroute some of the web traffic from the office through Kabelvision when both backup and main link are active, and provide more bandwidth for executives.

Company’s e-mail and web-site

Now, if you’ve already managed to get Internet connection to your office, congratulations of your success! The good news is that you solved the most difficult problem.

Now, you will certainly want to have working office e-mail address and web-site with your own company’s domain. How to do that if your office is in Jakarta?

Well, if your office is not big enough and there is no need for having your own mail-server, web-server and network with public IP address, the best option for you is co-location of servers or simply web/mail hosting in Europe or US.

Maybe the access from Indonesia will not be as fast as if you locate your hosting, but your monthly expenses on web and e-mail hosting will be extremely low comparable to local charges. Plus, you will get foreign-class quality of service and high stability of the networks.

Just pick the hosting company that provides features.

Web:
  • PHP,
  • web-statistics,
  • mySQL database.
E-mail:
  • e-mail forwarding and aliases,
  • spam filters,
  • anti-virus.
It is also important make sure the connection to e-mail web interface is encrypted with SSL. Otherwise, some nasty hackers will pretty quickly get access to your e-mail accounts. Unfortunately, this very basic feature used by nearly all hosting companies by default, in Indonesia is very rare and majority of hosting companies provide web-mail with no encryption (crazy!).

At the end of this post I’d like to describe my favourite solution for quickly setting-up stable and efficient web and e-mail solution for a small office. It goes as follow:
  • Get cheap web and mail hosting in Europe together with domain – make sure hosting company provides e-mail forwarding service, (my hosting recommendation is www.creativenet.de),
  • Upload your web-site to the server,
  • Open Gmail accounts for all employees,
  • For each employee set-up e-mail forwarding at hosting server to forward e-mails to Gmail accounts. For example forward some.employee@yourcompany.com to some.employee@gmail.com.
  • Ask your employees to use Gmail web-interface or configure their favourite e-mail client to use Gmail.
Why not just use the e-mail service provided by the hosting company that we use for e-mail and web? Because, Gmail provides more than 2.6GB (and increasing) of disk space per one e-mail account and you can also download and send e-mail using Outlook via SPOP3 and SSMTP secure protocols. Moreover, Gmail provides anti-virus and extremely efficient spam filters saving you lots of time wasted on deleting all the spam. Gmail provides superior web-interface that can be accessed from anywhere using various browsers. Moreover, you and your emploees can even access your Gmail account from mobile phones! Great, isn’t it … and all for FREE! No advertisements attached to e-mail as well.

Now you must be thinking … but when I reply on my client’s e-mail, they will receive e-mail with Gmail address not my company’s e-mail address? Wrong! Let me describe how it works.

When e-mail will be sent to your company’s e-mail address it will be delivered to the hosting server in Europe. Next, e-mail will be instantly forwarded to Gmail account, where after spam filtering your employee can read it and reply using Gmail's superior web-interface. Since in Gmail provide feature of external accounts, you can configure Gmail to use your company’s e-mail address when sent e-mail from Gmail! Thus, e-mail sent from Gmail can have your company’s e-mail address or any other e-mail address that you are using.

6 comments:

Jakartass said...

Marek.

What do you think about SBY allocating $10,000 for setting up a website?

I've commented on this and linked to your page here.

javaricho said...

Where can you find the best anger management consultant after dealing with the Internet service providers?

tedi said...

Beside Gmail, you can also use Yahoo! Mail (www.yahoo.com). One of the nicest thing in Yahoo Mail is it has filtering capabilities, so you can store emails based on criteria.

For example you can create a filter that can put all emails from a mailing list in a separate email folder.

Although Yahoo doesn't give so much space as Gmail, I think 1GB is more than enough for my personal needs. :D

James said...

Thanks the post has been a great help and will be passed on to my Indo office manager.

Any input on the following:
I am seeing 300ms /100kbps connections from StarHub home cable, Singapore to Centrin JK 64k leased lined end point at our office which is in the office buildings next to the Gran Melia hotel (at Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said Kav. X-O, Kuningan Jakarta 12950).

(You are right about the camels...about 200ms is coming from the link from Singapore (SingTel exchange) to Centrin).

But my problem is from about 13.00SG time I start getting anything from an additional 300 to 2000ms added at a specific Centrin node. The rest of the nodes the toure passes through in the Centrin network are fairly okay and constant

The ISP say this is their bandwidth management node...

Apart from changing ISP or moving to the NOC (although I am not sure that would help since I am guessing ALL Centrin's traffic goes through this node) is there anything else I can try?

I believe the hotel has wireless spots with a provider BNS but they mentioned they would have to put a cable into our office which has to go through building management. From what you mention it might be possible to link up with this provider via wireless since we are right next door?

I want to run a terminal server session which can only be about 500ms...

Thanks once again for your insights, priceless! :)

Marek Bialoglowy said...

If your office is around Gran Melia, you should check the ISP called PSN (~400m from Gran Melia) or Indo.net (Menara DEA office, ~900m from Gran Melia). I think they could easily set-up a wireless link to your office. But, make sure they encrypt it as both PSN and Indo.net tend to provide insecure wireless connected Internet service to their customers. If they say it's "better to have it not encrypted as performance is better" just ignore it as it is plain ridiculous.

The problem with the 200-300ms packet timing, this is pretty normal for Indonesia and is mostly due to terrible quality of the main Internet GW for Indonesia thanks to major monopoly companies.

PS: I had some trouble with Indo.net ... the quality of service was horrible, but this could be because of long distance, thus if you got WiFi connection to their office it should be fine. Just ask for one week trial first. Oh, I've also heard it's in fact possible to get satelite connection in Indonesia using HK ISP, which could be big benefit if you with to get higher download speed for your office. Unfortunately, I haven't got any tip on where to get it it yet.

Anonymous said...

any idea for the satelite connection? i am living in the eastern part of indo and i am dying for a faster connection. been living outside indo for far too long. thanks in advance

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