Sunday, April 22, 2012

Managing Network Bandwidth to Cut Unnecessary Wasteful Costs

Been on the road most of the month and one thing I have realized after talking to many potential customers is that Inappropriate Web use is resulting in excessive bandwidth consumption and is probably the single most reason behind network issues and network slowness. Typically, the worst offenders are Video downloads and streaming, social networking, music streaming, gaming sites, and P2P browser-based file sharing.  These are all widely accepted and used applications for use on corporate networks but the majority of them are often operating unchecked, opening your entire network up to bandwidth hogs, productivity-draining activity, and security risks. In India most service based companies block complete web usage or web access or some ration the time say an hour per user per day and most products based companies do allow round the clock access to the web. Nevertheless in all kinds what I have heard is that they don’t have neither visibility nor control over bandwidth usage like whom is hogging, which application is maximizing and how much and when the speed deteriorates. All fixes are reactive and slow to respond to and non-metric based action. 

There are multiple ways and policies you can implement to monitor your bandwidth, but before you chose any you need to watch for the patterns in your usage before any policies are done and figure out which is right for your business. Some of the questions that you need to ask are How much of your company’s bandwidth is being consumed by non-productive Web use?  Who are the top users of bandwidth on your company’s network?  Which sites or applications are the main bandwidth hogs? The answer seems easy enough, but this data is oftentimes scattered around your network.  Without easy access to these data (visualizing the network), many companies are simply unaware of possible lost revenue due to bandwidth congestion.  Fortunately J there are many companies (like i7 networks) which offer solutions around bandwidth management which includes visualization, monitoring, control and with Web filtering and complete reporting.

Usually such tools allow creating multiple groups and classes based on kinds of applications providing higher priority to business critical applications and throttling the lower recreational traffic and blocking others which are not allowed or of security concerns. Also many allow very detailed reporting of who is using how much and what application and what features/sub-apps within them consuming what % of bandwidth and if any are misusing. Also can ration the time of web usage which is attached to user login (say via Active directory integration) or ration the amount of data allowed or even the % of max bandwidth allowed (threshold) giving the network manager the maximum control over the bandwidth usage. Also certain controls can be activated automatically when a certain application or a certain user reached the so set threshold. Once a policy is activated, policy-specified traffic is throttled (shaped) by few notches of restriction on lower priority Web applications/Entertainment traffic (non biz traffic), allowing business-critical applications (VoIP, CRM, SAP, Oracle etc) to continue operating as needed.   

Visualization of the network traffic will be the most critical one and then how you apply the control or throttling becomes next critical process. While some allow throttling process on overall traffic volume rather than on the contents of the Internet packets, some advanced ones breaks the traffic down into content categories (classes) and bases its controls on those categories rather than just volume.  Some more allow throttling to be imposed on selected users or groups, regardless of the content they’re seeking while some allow throttling based on time (biz hours, after hours etc) and very few allow all of it (like i7 networks J).

Such tools should allow businesses with the insight needed to most efficiently manage and utilize their bandwidth, their Web traffic and in turn the productivity in the office.

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