Eight Tips for Bandwidth Management

    It’s a common belief that bandwidth, memory, and disk space are all cheap. However, the apps that we use – whether running on our computers or on the cloud – are increasingly sophisticated, and often seem to grow at the same pace as the upgrades. Between real-time streaming, VoIP, and cloud trends, bandwidth can be overwhelmed, slowing everyone’s downloads and response times. While some organizations respond by buying ever more bandwidth, others are taking steps to reduce and prioritize the demand.

    To help curb some of the bandwidth pain, Jim MacLeod of WildPackets provides common issues and illustrates how to identify and overcome them.

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    Click through for eight tips for curbing some of the bandwidth management pain, as identified by Jim MacLeod of WildPackets.

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    The first step for the bandwidth problem is to understand what’s on your network, and compare that with why your business needs your network. Do you need high-speed links so customers can upload files to your support team? Do you rely on low latency to keep up with trading prices? Do your employees and users rely on cloud-based services for email, documents, CRM, etc.? If you’re going to reduce demand, you have to start with your business needs.

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    It doesn’t take fancy equipment to monitor and control your traffic. Most firewalls can gather information on top protocols and IP addresses, and some can give you URL categories or media types. Additionally, many routers are capable of applying bandwidth prioritization or limits based on ACLs and other filters. Start spending a little time looking at what’s using your bandwidth and try some test cases to guarantee bandwidth for business-critical traffic and reducing the more questionable stuff. You shouldn’t need to block it: One of your business needs is to keep your users happy.

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    In May 2011, Sandvine reported that Netflix accounts for 30 percent of downloaded traffic on the Internet. On your network, it’s unlikely to be that high, but think about other streaming media like YouTube or online radio. Is full HD really necessary, or can you throttle it down to something that still looks okay in a browser? Keep in mind not to interfere with critical traffic, like business calls on VoIP, or telepresence.

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    The bring your own device (BYOD) trend not only raises a security issue, but can also slow down the local network. Consumer-grade devices are designed for small networks, and their discovery protocols can send multicast that floods the entire subnet. Rather than banning BYOD, create a BYOD or guest Wi-Fi network in an external DMZ. It will let your users check their email without slowing down their neighbors.

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    “Cloud” represents the growing trend of externally hosted business tools, which your users need to access to do their jobs. Increase the priority for the SaaS sites your organization uses, or the company servers hosted off-site. Also pay attention to sites that allow “cloud storage” or “cloud backup,” as these could lead to confidential information leaking outside of the protection of your network.

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    Voice and Video over IP presents a case where you may indeed need to increase your bandwidth. If your company uses VoIP for communication with clients, or if you have applications that require VoIP, make sure that your network can handle it. VoIP is especially sensitive to jitter and packet loss, which could be caused by other traffic, so this is another category you want to protect.

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    Several years ago, Comcast upset many of its customers by rate-limiting peer-to-peer networks. Fortunately, your organization is probably not in the business of providing home Internet use. While there are valid uses of peer-to-peer downloading, such as Linux installations, the traffic and its content are difficult to police. Given that most peer-to-peer traffic uses random ports, you can address this traffic by applying the lowest priority – or even blocking – any traffic on non-standard ports. However, remember that protocols like VoIP may also use non-standard ports, so make sure your equipment tracks them based on known destinations or monitoring the SIP or other control traffic.

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    If you really can’t trim the demand for bandwidth, it may still be possible to reduce traffic by using a proxy server or WAN acceleration. Even simple solutions may work: During the Olympics, MacLeod’s company set up a big screen TV in their break room. The end goal isn’t to punish offenders, it’s to find a simple way to save costs.

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