Art of Bandwidth Management

Enterprise WAN Management

Strategies for a Healthy WAN-Toward a Well-connected Enterprise

Before Buying a WAN Accelerator

Managing Bandwidth Flow

Today bandwidth availability is not at all a problem; there is plenty of it available with your service provider. However, in-spite of so much bandwidth, managing it still remains the biggest challenge for most CIOs. It's still something you can never have enough of. No matter how much bandwidth you buy, it quickly gets consumed and at the end of the day, you have to again opt for more. So what's the reason organizations are always short of bandwidth? There are several reasons for this, and in this article we will try to bring out those issues and also discuss some of the trends that are developing in the world of bandwidth to cope up with them. In addition, we will also identify the hot technologies that are driving bandwidth usage in organizations.

Today, the primary aim of CIOs is to provide high availability to their mission critical applications and to ensure maximum uptime for branch office connectivity. For this, both bandwidth capacity and availability must be ensured. This is always a challenge due to a number of reasons. The prime culprit is the increasing number of applications that require WAN connectivity, especially Internet bandwidth. For instance, in a survey that we conducted in Feb this year, we asked CIOs about which applications are they currently running over their WAN infrastructure. A majority of them (more than 50%) were already using it for running business applications like ERP, CRM, VPN connectivity, file sharing, and messaging/
collaboration. That's quite a mouthful, and yet an incomplete list. In the future, they also plan to deploy video conferencing, online portal for e-commerce, DR and BCP, and much more. Most of this requires assured bandwidth because it's all business critical. Add to this all the non-business critical traffic, and you'll be out of bandwidth in no time. So what do you do? How do you guarantee bandwidth? The easy way out is to procure more bandwidth, and the difficult way is to manage the existing bandwidth. Which path do you take? Obviously, it would be the easy way out, but then you can't continue doing that indefinitely. The good news is that there are several key developments in this area that are making even the difficult job of managing bandwidth easy. In this story, we'll take a look at some of these trends.

Applications currently running across the WAN infrastructure WAN applications planning to deploy in the near future

Appliances are making bandwidth mgmt a breeze
In the olden days, to assure bandwidth, IT managers had to analyze the entire network traffic using tools like Ethereal, Ntop, MRTG, etc to identify bandwidth bottlenecks like improper architecture, faulty or out-dated networking hardware, etc, which was causing congestion on the network and eating up bandwidth.

Today, bandwidth management appliances have taken over, which sit on your Internet gateway and analyze network traffic on a real-time basis. Based on the kind of traffic, pre-defined management policies are executed to manage bandwidth, automatically.

These intelligent devices not only manage the bandwidth, but also generate detailed reports for faulty network hardware. Secondly, these advanced bandwidth appliances offer load-balancing and failover features, which ensure high availability to your mission-critical business applications.

Compared to the software-based solutions, these appliances require less maintenance, take lesser data center space and are are more cost-effective.

WiMAX
It is the technology behind wireless broadband. It's based on IEEE 802.16 and operates in the 2-11 GHz microwave range and promises to deliver shared throughput of up to 75 Mbps over a long distance. You can access Internet wirelessly. This technology has the potential to replace the last-mile broadband access such as DLS.

Use Managed Service Providers
Outsourcing is a key trend that the world is heading towards, and IT is an area where outsourcing is catching up very fast, even in India. The bandwidth management can also be outsourced to a managed service provider (MSP). The best part of this is that now the CIO doesn't have to worry about bandwidth management and on behalf of an organization the MSP does it. Once you have decided to outsource your bandwidth management, you just need to concentrate on drafting a proper SLA and put penalties for under- or non-performance, on your organization's behalf.

These days, you get two bandwidth options from MSPs. You can opt for dedicated bandwidth or may agree to per-usage bandwidth model. If you are not sure of the bandwidth requirements of future projects then let the MSP handle the situation and come up with a customized offering. In this case, MSP may quote on the basis of your bandwidth usage and offer you a premium bandwidth pipe. As your applications need more bandwidth, it will automatically be increased and your application would never face any bandwidth crunch. In addition, MSPs will offer all bandwidth management features and policies according to your IT infrastructure. Secondly, MSPs can also offer you value-added services, where they will manage every bit of Internet bandwidth on your network and may also help you resolve bottlenecks.

VDSL
Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) is the next step after DLS technology, which uses copper wire to provided broadband. This offers you a never-before amount of bandwidth up to about 52 Mbps. Compare with a maximum speed of 8 to 10 Mbps in case of ADSL.

Single vs multiple service providers
Even if your ISP is offering you good service today, it can be a risky proposition not to have a backup. What if there's a natural calamity or a manmade one? Or perhaps there's a disruption on the service provider's network-so much for your business continuity. The obvious solution to this is to have a backup link, which has been the trend for a long time. However, the new trend these days is to have a single service provider who will give you multiple redundant paths. For instance, most of the key telecom service providers these days provide an MPLS backbone, which is over a fiber channel ring. This has multiple redundant paths, which ensures that if the primary link fails, your connectivity is not disrupted, and even if the secondary link fails, there's a third link that's still active. The benefit of this is that even the redundant links can provide the same level of bandwidth, so even your quality of service isn't impacted.

On the other side, you could also go for multple service providers. The choice here depends upon which applications are you running across your WANs, and whether a single service provider is able to provide you the necessary banwidth and quality of service required for the job.

What's the biggest challenge you face with users of your WAN infrastructure?

Multiple connectivity options are becoming commonplace
The key reason for this trend to take shape is branch office automation. Increasingly, organizations are enhancing the IT infrastructure of their branch
offices. If you have branch offices spread across the country to the remotest of areas, then how do you ensure connectivity at each location? There are multiple technologies available for the job depending upon the location and size of your branch office, as well as the applications you're likely to run there. For instance, if you've consolidated your IT infrastructure into your data center, then branch offices would need to be given remote access to it. If you're providing remote application access, then the banwidth requirement would be much higher. However, if you've installed an application server in the local branch office, then you would just require sufficient bandwidth to synchronize data with your central application in the data center. Connectivity options are in abundance today, ranging from MPLS-VPN, to radio towers, to VSATs, to WiMax, VDSL, and much more. Like we said, connectivity options are not the issue. What you need to understand very clearly are the applications you plan to run at each branch office and their bandwidth requirements. For that, their characteristics must be studied in detail.

IPTV
In Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) digital TV signals are transmitted over an IP network. Specifically, it's an IP network, which is used to
provide a broadband connection to your door step. Now with this technology, same Internet channels are being used to offer you television channels, as well.

B/W intensive apps are on the rise
Another trend that's choking all the bandwidth is an increase in the number of bandwidth intensive applications. Video conferencing for instance, is becoming more common, especially in certain sectors. We've seen it being deployed in healthcare for tele-medicine. Likewise, with VoIP coming in, things move beyond basic voice conversations. They move into multi-point conferences, collaboration, sharing, etc. Then of course are the applications for DR and BCP, and web enabled versions of ERP and CRM apps, etc.

WAN accelerators are gaining ground
To combat the new and more bandwidth hungry applications, WAN accelerators have come to the rescue. They accelerate application performance, increasing WAN capacity, and enable application prioritization.

They also increase the throughput by recognizing repeated data patterns. They store repeated data patterns on a hard drive, similar to a cache, and serve the same to a requestor then and there, instead of getting it from live hosts. This saves a lot of bandwidth on the WAN links.

Overall, bandwidth is one the most misused service in an organization. However, you need to control it using a mix of technology and policies. We hope you've found the trends helpful in deciding the right technologies as well as establishing a set of policies.

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