Alternatives to Bandwidth Addiction


By Art Reisman

CTO – http://www.netequalizer.com

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

Bandwidth providers are organized to sell bandwidth. In the face of bandwidth congestion, their fall back position is always to sell more bandwidth, never to slow consumption. Would a crack dealer send their clients to a treatment program?

For example, I have had hundreds of encounters with people at bandwidth resellers; all of our exchanges have been courteous and upbeat, and yet a vendor relationship rarely develops. Whether they are executives, account managers, or front-line technicians, the only time they call us is as a last resort to save an account, and for several good reasons.

1) It is much easier, conceptually, to sell a bandwidth upgrade rather than a piece of equipment.

2) Bandwidth contracts bring recurring revenue.

3) Providers can lock in a bandwidth contract, investors like contracts that guarantee revenue.

4) There is very little overhead to maintain a leased bandwidth line once up and running.

5) And as I eluded to before, would a crack dealer send a client to rehab?

6) Commercial bandwidth infrastructure costs have come down in the last several years.

7) Bandwidth upgrades are very often the most viable and easiest path to relieve a congested Internet connection.

Bandwidth optimization companies exist because at some point customers realize they cannot outrun their consumption. Believe it or not, the limiting factor to Internet access speed is not always the pure cost of raw bandwidth, enterprise infrastructure can be the limiting factor. Switches, routers, cabling, access points and back-hauls all have a price tag to upgrade, and sometimes it is easier to scale back on frivolous consumption.

The ROI of optimization is something your provider may not want you know.

The next time you consider a bandwidth upgrade at the bequest of your provider, you might want to look into some simple ways to optimize your consumption. You may not be able to fully arrest your increased demand with an optimizer, but realistically you can slow growth rate from a typical unchecked 20 percent a year to a more manageable 5 percent a year. With an optimization solution in place, your doubling time for bandwidth demand can easily reduce down from about 3.5 years to 15 years, which translates to huge cost savings.

Note: Companies such as level 3 offer optimization solutions, but with all do respect, I doubt those business units are exciting stock holders with revenue. My guess is they are a break even proposition; however I’d be glad to eat crow if I am wrong, I am purely speculating.  Sometimes companies are able to sell adjunct services at a nice profit.

Related NY times op-ed on bandwidth addiction

Editors Choice: The Best of Speeding up Your Internet


Edited by Art Reisman

CTO – www.netequalizer.com

Over the years we have written a variety of articles related to Internet Access Speed and all of the factors that can affect your service. Below, I have consolidated some of my favorites along with a quick convenient synopsis.

How to determine the true speed of video over your Internet connection: If you have ever wondered why you can sometimes watch a full-length movie without an issue while at other times you can’t get the shortest of YouTube videos to play without interruption, this article will shed some light on what is going on behind the scenes.

FCC is the latest dupe when it comes to Internet speeds: After the Wall Street Journal published an article on Internet provider speed claims, I decided to peel back the onion a bit. This article exposes anomalies between my speed tests and what I experienced when accessing real data.

How to speed up your Internet connection with a bandwidth controller: This is more of a technical article for Internet Service Providers. It details techniques used to eliminate congestion on their links and thus increase the perception of higher speeds to their end users.

You may be the victim of Internet congestion: An article aimed at consumer and business users to explain some of the variance in your network speeds when congestion rears its ugly head.

Just how fast is your 4g network?: When I wrote this article, I was a bit frustrated with all the amazing claims of speed coming with wireless 4G devices. There are some fundamental gating factors that will forever insure that your wired connection will likely always be a magnitude faster than any wireless data device.

How does your ISP enforce your Internet speed?: Goes into some of the techniques used on upstream routers to control the speed of Internet and data connections.

Burstable Internet connections, are they of any value?: Sheds light on the ambiguity of the term “burstable.”

Speeding up your Internet connection with an optimizing appliance: Breaks down the tradeoffs of various techniques.

Why caching alone will speed up your Internet: One of my favorite articles. Caching, although a good idea, often creates great unattainable expectations. Find out why.

QoS is a matter of sacrifice: Explains how quality of service is a “zero sum” game, and why somebody must lose when favoring one type of traffic.

Using QoS to speed up traffic: More on the pros and cons of using a QoS device.

Nine tips and tricks to speed up your Internet connection: A great collection of 15 tips, this article seems to be timeless and continually grows in popularity.

Network bottlenecks when your router drops packets: A simple, yet technical, explanation of how hitting your line speed limit on your router causes a domino effect.

Why is the Internet access in my hotel so slow: Okay I admit i , this was an attempt to draw some attention to our NetEqualizer which solves this problem about 99 percent of the time for the hotel industry. You can bring the horse to water but you cannot make them drink.

Speed test tools from M-labs: The most reliable speed test tool there is, uses techniques that cannot easily be fooled by special treatment from your provider.

Are hotels jamming 3g access?: They may not be jamming 3g but they are certainly in no hurry to make it better.

Five more tips in testing your Internet speed: More tips to test Internet speed.

Ten Things You Can Do With Our $999 Bandwidth Controller


Why are we doing this?

In the last few years, bulk bandwidth prices have plummeted. The fundamentals for managing bandwidth have also changed. Many of our smaller customers, businesses with 50 to 300 employees, are upgrading their old 10 megabit circuits with 50 Megabit  links at no extra cost. There seems to be some sort of bandwidth fire sale going on…

Is there a catch?

The only restriction on the Lite unit (when compared to the NE2000) is the number of users it can handle at one time. It is designed for smaller networks. It has all the features and support of the higher-end NE2000. For those familiar with our full-featured product, you do not lose anything.

Here are ten things you can still do with our $999 Bandwidth Controller

1) Provide priority for VOIP and Skype on an MPLS link.

2) Full use of Bandwidth Pools. This is our bandwidth restriction by subnet feature and can be used to ease congestion on remote Access Points.

3) Implement bandwidth restrictions by quota.

4) Have full graphical reporting via NTOP reporting integration.

5) Automated priority via equalizing for low-bandwidth activities such as web browsing, using Citrix terminal emulation, and web applications (database queries).

6) Priority for selected video stations.

7) Basic Rate limits by IP, or MAC address.

8) Limit P2P traffic.

9) Automatically email customers on bandwidth overages.

10) Sleep well at night knowing your network will run smoothly during peak usage.

Are Bandwidth Controllers still relevant?

Dirt cheap bandwidth upgrades are good for consumers, but not for expensive bandwidth controllers on the market. For some products in excess of  $50,000, this might be the beginning of the end. We are fortunate to have built a lean company with low overhead. We rely mostly on a manufacturer-direct market channel, and this is greatly reduces our cost of sale. From experience, we know that even with higher bandwidth amounts, letting your customers run wide-open is still going to lead to trouble in the form of congested links and brownouts. 

As bandwidth costs drop, the Bandwidth Controller component of your network is not going to go away, but it must also make sense in terms of cost and ease of use. The next generation bandwidth controller must be full-featured while also competing with lower bandwidth prices. With our new low-end models, we will continue to make the purchase of our equipment a “no brainer” in value offered for your dollar spent.

There is nothing like our Lite Unit on the market delivered with support and this feature set at this price point. Read more about the features and specifications of our NetEqualizer Lite in our  NetEqualizer Lite Data Sheet.

APconnections Celebrates New NetEqualizer Lite with Introductory Pricing


Editor’s Note:  This is a copy of a press release that went out on May 15th, 2012.  Enjoy!

Lafayette, Colorado – May 15, 2012 – APconnections, an innovation-driven technology company that delivers best-in-class network traffic management solutions, is celebrating the expansion of its NetEqualizer Lite product line by offering special pricing for a limited time.

NetEqualizer’s VP of Sales and Business Development, Joe D’Esopo is excited to announce “To make it easy for you to try the new NetEqualizer Lite, for a limited time we are offering the NetEqualizer Lite-10 at introductory pricing of just $999 for the unit, our Lite-20 at $1,100, and our Lite-50 at $1,400.  These are incredible deals for the value you will receive; we believe unmatched today in our industry.”

We have upgraded our base technology for the NetEqualizer Lite, our entry-level bandwidth-shaping appliance.  Our new Lite still retains a small form-factor, which sets it apart, and makes it ideal for implementation in the Field, but now has enhanced CPU and memory. This enables us to include robust graphical reporting like in our other product lines, and also to support additional bandwidth license levels.

The Lite is geared towards smaller networks with less than 350 users, is available in three license levels, and is field-upgradable across them: our Lite-10 runs on networks up to 10Mbps and up to 150 users ($999), our Lite-20 (20Mbps and 200 users for $1,100), and Lite-50 (50Mbps and 350 users for $1,400).  See our NetEqualizer Price List for complete details.  One year renewable NetEqualizer Software & Support (NSS) and NetEqualizer Hardware Warranties (NHW) are offered.

Like all of our bandwidth shapers, the NetEqualizer Lite is a plug-n-play, low maintenance solution that is quick and easy to set-up, typically taking one hour or less.  QoS is implemented via behavior-based bandwidth shaping, “equalizing”, giving priority to latency-sensitive applications, such as VoIP, web browsing, chat and e-mail over large file downloads and video that can clog your Internet pipe.

About APconnections:  APconnections is based in Lafayette, Colorado, USA.  We released our first commercial offering in July 2003, and since then thousands of customers all over the world have put our products into service.  Today, our flexible and scalable solutions can be found in over 4,000 installations in many types of public and private organizations of all sizes across the globe, including: Fortune 500 companies, major universities, K-12 schools, and Internet providers on six (6) continents.  To learn more, contact us at sales@apconnections.net.

Contact: Sandy McGregor
Director, Marketing
APconnections, Inc.
303.997.1300
sandy@apconnections.net

Why Caching Alone Will Not Solve Your Congestion Issue


Editors Note:
The intent of this article to is to help set appropriate expectations of using a caching server on an uncontrolled Internet link. There are some great speed gains to be had with a caching server; however, caching alone will not remedy a heavily congested Internet connection.

 

Are you going down the path of using a caching server (such as Squid) to decrease peak usage load on a congested Internet link? 

You might be surprised to learn that Internet link congestion cannot be mitigated with a caching server alone. Contention can only be eliminated by:

1) Increasing bandwidth

2) Some form of bandwidth control

3) Or a combination of 1) and 2)

A common assumption about caching is that somehow you will be able to cache a large portion of common web content – such that a significant amount of your user traffic will not traverse your backbone to your provider. Unfortunately, caching a large portion of web content to attain a significant hit ratio is not practical, and here is why:

Lets say your Internet trunk delivers 100 megabits and is heavily saturated prior to implementing caching or a bandwidth control solution. What happens when you add a caching server to the mix?

From our experience, a good hit rate to cache will likely not exceed 10 percent. Yes, we have heard claims of 50 percent, but have not seen this in practice. We assume this is an urban myth or just a special case.

Why is the hit rate at best only 10 percent?

Because the Internet is huge relative to a cache, and you can only cache a tiny fraction of total Internet content. Even Google, with billions invested in data storage, does not come close. You can attempt to keep trending popular content in the cache, but the majority of access requests to the Internet will tend to be somewhat random and impossible to anticipate. Yes, a good number of hits might hit the Yahoo home page and read the popular articles, but many users more are going to do unique things. For example, common hits like email and Facebook are all very different for each user, and cannot be maintained in the cache. User hobbies are also all different, and thus they traverse different web pages and watch different videos. The point is you can’t anticipate this data and keep it in a local cache any more reliably than guessing the weather long term. You can get a small statistical advantage, and that accounts for the 10 percent that you get right.

Note: Without a statistical advantage your hit rate would be effectively be 0.

Even with caching at a 10 percent hit rate, your link traffic will not decline.

With caching in place, any gain in efficiency will be countered by a corresponding increase in total usage. Why is this?

If you assume a 10 percent hit rate to cache, you will end up getting a 10 percent increase in Internet usage and thus, if your pipe to the Internet was near congestion when you put the caching solution in, it will still be congested. Yes, the hits to cache will be fast and amazing, but the 90 percent of the hits that do not come from the cache will equal 100 percent of your Internet link. The resulting effect will be that 90 percent of your Internet accesses will be sluggish due to the congested link.

Another way to understand is by practical example.

Let’s start with a very congested 100 megabit Internet link. Web hits are slow, YouTube takes forever, email responses are slow, and Skype calls break up. To solve these issues, you put in a caching server.

Now 10 percent of your hits come from cache, but since you did nothing to mitigate overall bandwidth usage, your users will simply eat up the extra 10 percent from cache and then some. It is like giving a drug addict a free hit of their preferred drug. If you serve up a fast YouTube, it will just encourage more YouTube usage.

Even with a good caching solution in place, if somebody tries to access Grandma’s Facebook page, it will have to come over the congested link, and it may time out and not load right away. Or, if somebody makes a Skype call it will still be slow. In other words, the 90 percent of the hits not in cache are still slow even though some video and some pages play fast, so the question is:

If 10 percent of your traffic is really fast, and 90 percent is doggedly slow, did your caching solution help?

The answer is yes, of course it helped, 10 percent of users are getting nice, uninterrupted YouTube. It just may not seem that way when the complaints keep rolling in. :)

 

Editors Update August 20 2013

This article written back in 2011  still says it all, and we continue to confirm  by talking to our ISP customers, that, at best a  generic caching engine will get a 10 percent hit rate for people watching movies. However this hit rate has little effect on solving congestion issues on the Internet link itself.

You May Be the Victim of Internet Congestion


Have you ever had a mysterious medical malady? The kind where maybe you have strange spots on your tongue, pain in your left temple, or hallucinations of hermit crabs at inappropriate times – symptoms seemingly unknown to mankind?

But then, all of a sudden, you miraculously find an exact on-line medical diagnosis?

Well, we can’t help you with medical issues, but we can provide a similar oasis for diagnosing the cause of your slow network – and even better, give you something proactive to do about it.

Spotting classic congested network symptoms:

You are working from your hotel room late one night, and you notice it takes a long time to get connected. You manage to fire off a couple emails, and then log in to your banking website to pay some bills. You get the log-in prompt, hit return, and it just cranks for 30 seconds, until… “Page not found.” Well maybe the bank site is experiencing problems?

You decide to get caught up on Christmas shopping. Initially the Macy’s site is a bit a slow to come up, but nothing too out of the ordinary on a public connection. Your Internet connection seems stable, and you are able to browse through a few screens and pick out that shaving cream set you have been craving – shopping for yourself is more fun anyway. You proceed to checkout, enter in your payment information, hit submit, and once again the screen locks up. The payment verification page times out. You have already entered your credit card, and with no confirmation screen, you have no idea if your order was processed.

We call this scenario, “the cyclical rolling brown out,” and it is almost always a problem with your local Internet link having too many users at peak times. When the pressure on the link from all active users builds to capacity, it tends to spiral into a complete block of all access for 20 to 30 seconds, and then, service returns to normal for a short period of time – perhaps another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Like a bad case of Malaria, the respites are only temporary, making the symptoms all the more insidious.

What causes cyclical loss of Internet service?

When a shared link in something like a hotel, residential neighborhood, or library reaches capacity, there is a crescendo of compound gridlock. For example, when a web page times out the first time, your browser starts sending retries. Multiply this by all the users sharing the link, and nobody can complete their request. Think of it like an intersection where every car tries to proceed at the same time, they crash in the middle and nobody gets through. Additional cars keep coming and continue to pile on. Eventually the police come with wreckers and clear everything out of the way. On the Internet, eventually the browsers and users back off and quit trying – for a few minutes at least. Until late at night when the users finally give up, the gridlock is likely to build and repeat.

What can be done about gridlock on an Internet link?

The easiest way to prevent congestion is to purchase more bandwidth. However, sometimes even with more bandwidth, the congestion might overtake the link. Eventually most providers also put in some form of bandwidth control – like a NetEqualizer. The ideal solution is this layered approach – purchasing the right amount of bandwidth AND having arbitration in place. This creates a scenario where instead of having a busy four-way intersection with narrow streets and no stop signs, you now have an intersection with wider streets and traffic lights. The latter is more reliable and has improved quality of travel for everyone.

For some more ideas on controlling this issue, you can reference our previous article, Five Tips to Manage Internet Congestion.

Five Tips to Manage Network Congestion


As the demand for Internet access continues to grow around the world, the complexity of planning, setting up, and administering your network grows. Here are five (5) tips that we have compiled, based on discussions with network administrators in the field.

#1) Be Smart About Buying Bandwidth
The local T1 provider does not always give you the lowest price bandwidth.  There are many Tier 1 providers out there that may have fiber within line-of-sight of your business. For example, Level 3 has fiber rings already hot in many metro areas and will be happy to sell you bandwidth. To get a low-cost high-speed link to your point of presence, numerous companies can set up your wireless network infrastructure.

#2) Manage Expectations
You know the old saying “under promise and over deliver”.  This holds true for network offerings.  When building out your network infrastructure, don’t let your network users just run wide open. As you add bandwidth, you need to think about and implement appropriate rate limits/caps for your network users.  Do not wait; the problem with waiting is that your original users will become accustomed to higher speeds and will not be happy with sharing as network use grows – unless you enforce some reasonable restrictions up front.  We also recommend that you write up an expectations document for your end users “what to expect from the network” and post it on your website for them to reference.

#3) Understand Your Risk Factors
Many network administrators believe that if they set maximum rate caps/limits for their network users, then the network is safe from locking up due to congestion. However, this is not the case.  You also need to monitor your contention ratio closely.  If your network contention ratio becomes unreasonable, your users will experience congestion aka “lock ups” and “freeze”. Don’t make this mistake.

This may sound obvious, but let me spell it out. We often run into networks with 500 network users sharing a 20-meg link. The network administrator puts in place two rate caps, depending on the priority of the user  – 1 meg up and down for user group A and 5 megs up and down for user group B.  Next, they put rate caps on each group to ensure that they don’t exceed their allotted amount. Somehow, this is supposed to exonerate the network from experiencing contention/congestion. This is all well and good, but if you do the math, 500 network users on a 20 meg link will overwhelm the network at some point, and nobody will then be able to get anywhere close to their “promised amount.”

If you have a high contention ratio on your network, you will need something more than rate limits to prevent lockups and congestion. At some point, you will need to go with a layer-7 application shaper (such as Blue Coat Packeteer or Allot NetEnforcer), or go with behavior-based shaping (NetEqualizer). Your only other option is to keep adding bandwidth.

#4) Decide Where You Want to Spend Your Time
When you are building out your network, think about what skill sets you have in-house and those that you will need to outsource.  If you can select network applications and appliances that minimize time needed for set-up, maintenance, and day-to-day operations, you will reduce your ongoing costs. This is true whether your insource or outsource, as there is an “opportunity cost” for spending time with each network toolset.

#5) Use What You Have Wisely
Optimize your existing bandwidth.   Bandwidth shaping appliances can help you to optimize your use of the network.   Bandwidth shapers work in different ways to achieve this.  Layer-7 shapers will allocate portions of your network to pre-defined application types, splitting your pipe into virtual pipes based on how you want to allocate your network traffic.  Behavior-based shaping, on the other hand, will not require predefined allocations, but will shape traffic based on the nature of the traffic itself (latency-sensitive, short/bursty traffic is prioritized higher than hoglike traffic).   For known traffic patterns on a WAN, Layer-7 shaping can work very well.  For unknown patterns like Internet traffic, behavior-based shaping is superior, in our opinion.

On Internet links, a NetEqualizer bandwidth shaper will allow you to increase your customer base by between 10 to 30 percent without having to purchase additional bandwidth. This allows you to increase the amount of people you can put into your infrastructure without an expensive build out.

In order to determine whether the return-on-investment (ROI) makes sense in your environment, use our ROI tool to calculate your payback period on adding bandwidth control to your network.  You can then compare this one-time cost with your expected recurring month costs of additional bandwidth.  Also note in many cases you will need to do both at some point.  Bandwidth shaping can delay or defer purchasing additional bandwidth, but with growth in your network user base, you will eventually need to consider purchasing more bandwidth.

In Summary…
Obviously, these five tips are not rocket science, and some of them you may be using already.  We offer them here as a quick guide & reminder to help in your network planning.  While the sea change that we are all seeing in internet usage (more on that later…) makes network administration more challenging every day, adequate planning can help to prepare your network for the future.

Created by APconnections, the NetEqualizer is a plug-and-play bandwidth control and WAN/Internet optimization appliance that is flexible and scalable. When the network is congested, NetEqualizer’s unique “behavior shaping” technology dynamically and automatically gives priority to latency sensitive applications, such as VoIP and email. Click here to request a full price list.

Top Five Causes For Disruption Of Internet Service


Editor’s Note: We recently took a poll from our customer base consisting of thousands of NetEqualizer users. What follows are the top five most common causes  for disruption of Internet connectivity.

1) Congestion

Congestion is the most common cause for short Internet outages.  In general, a congestion outage is characterized by 10 seconds of uptime followed by approximately 30 seconds of chaos. During the chaotic episode, the circuit gridlocks to the point where you can’t load a Web page.  Just when you think the problem has cleared, it comes back. The cyclical nature of a congestion outage is due to the way browsers and humans retry on failed connections. During busy times usage surges and then backs off, but the relief is temporary.

Congestion related outages are especially acute at public libraries, hotels, residence halls and educational institutions. Congestion is also very common on wireless networks , have you ever tried to send a text message from a crowded stadium it is usually impossible.

Solution:

The best solution for preventing congestion is to use some form of bandwidth control. The next best option is to increase the size of your bandwidth link; however without some form of bandwidth control, bandwidth increases are often absorbed quickly and congestion returns.

2) Failed Link to Provider

If you have a business-critical Internet link, it’s a good idea to source service from multiple providers. Between construction work, thunderstorms, wind, and power problems, anything can happen to your link at almost any time. These types of outages are much more likely than internal equipment failures.

3) Service Provider Internet Speed Fluctuates

Not all DS3 lines are the same. We have seen many occasions where customers are just not getting their contracted rate 24/7 as promised.

4) Equipment Failure

Power surges are the most common cause for frying routers and switches. Therefore, make sure everything has surge and UPS protection. After power surges, the next most common failure is lockup from feature-overloaded equipment. Considering this, keep your configurations  as simple as possible on your routers and firewalls or be ready to upgrade to equipment with faster newer processing power.

5) Operator Error Mistake

Duplicating IP addresses, plugging wires into the wrong jack, and setting bad firewall rules are the leading operator errors reported.

Editor’s Note: If you commonly encounter issues that aren’t discussed here, feel free to fill us in in the comments section. For more information on disruption of service, take a look at the following articles: http://www.onecomputerguy.com/networking/troubleshoot_internet.htm.

http://technologizer.com/2008/08/11/eight-great-internet-outages/

Ten Things to Consider When Choosing a Bandwidth Shaper


This article is intended as an objective guide for anyone trying to narrow down their options in the bandwidth controller market. Organizations today have a plethora of product options to choose from. To further complicate your choices, not only are there  specialized bandwidth controllers, you’ll also find that most Firewall and Router products today contain some form of  bandwidth shaping and QoS  features .

What follows is an  all-encompassing  list of questions that will help you to quickly organize your  priorities with regards to choosing a bandwidth shaper.

1) What is the Cost of Increasing your Bandwidth?

Although this question may be a bit obvious, it must be asked. We assume that anybody in the market for a bandwidth controller also has the option of increasing their bandwidth. The costs of purchasing  and operating a bandwidth controller should ultimately be compared with the cost of increasing bandwidth on your network.

2) How much Savings should you expect from your Bandwidth Controller?

A good bandwidth controller in many situations can increase your carrying capacity by up to 50 percent.  However, beware, some technologies designed to optimize your network can create labor overhead in maintenance hours. Labor costs with some solutions can far exceed the cost of adding bandwidth.

3) Can you out-run your Organization’s Appetite for Increased Bandwidth  with a One-Time Bandwidth Upgrade?

The answer is yes, it is possible to buy enough bandwidth such that all your users cannot possibly exhaust the supply.  The bad news is that this solution is usually cost-prohibitive.  Many organizations that come to us have previously doubled their bandwidth, sometimes more than once, only to be back to overwhelming congestion within  a few months after their upgrade.  The appetite for bandwidth is insatiable, and in our opinion, at some point a bandwidth control device becomes your only rational option. Outrunning your user base usually is only possible where  Internet infrastructure is subsidized by a government entity, hiding the true costs.  For example, a small University with 1000 students will likely not be able to consume a true 5 Gigabit pipe, but purchasing a pipe of that size would be out of reach for most US-based Universities.

4) How Valuable is Your Time? Are you a Candidate for a Freeware-type Solution?

What we have seen in the market place is that small shops with high technical expertise, or small ISPs on a budget, can often make use of a freeware do-it-yourself bandwidth control solution.  If you are cash-strapped, this may be a viable solution for you.  However, please go into this with your eyes open.  The general pitfalls and risks are as follows:

a) Staff can easily run up 80 or more hours trying to  save a few thousand dollars fiddling with an unsupported solution.  And this is only for the initial installation & set-up.  Over the useful life of the solution, this can continue at a high-level, due to the unsupported nature of these technologies.

b) Investors  do not like to invest in businesses with homegrown technology, for many reasons, including finding personnel to sustain the solution, upgrading and adding features, as well as overall risk of keeping it in working order, unless it gives them a very large competitive advantage. You can easily shoot yourself in the foot with prospective buyers by becoming too dependent on homegrown, freeware solutions, in order to save costs. When you rely on something homegrown, it generally means an employee or two holds the keys to the operational knowledge, hence potential buyers can become uncomfortable (you would be too!).

5) Are you Looking to Enforce Bandwidth Limits as part of a Rate Plan that you Resell to Clients?

For example , let’s say that you have a good-sized backbone of bandwidth at a reasonable cost per megabit, and you just want to enforce class of service speeds to sell your bandwidth in incremental revenue chunks.

If this is truely your only requirement, and not optimization to support high contention ratios, then you should be careful not to overspend on your solution. A basic NetEqualizer or Allot system may be all that you need. You can also most likely leverage the bandwidth control features bundled into your Router or Firewall.  The thing to be careful of if using your Router/Firewall is that these devices can become overwhelmed due to lack of horsepower.

6) Are you just Trying to Optimize the Bandwidth that you have, based on Well-Known Priorities?

Some context:

If you have a very static network load, with a finite well-defined set of  applications running through your enterprise, there are application shaping (Layer-7 shaping) products out there such as the Blue Coat PacketShaper,which uses deep packet inspection, that can be set up once to allocate different amounts bandwidth based on application.  If the PacketShaper is a bit too pricey, the Cymphonics product can also detect most common applications.

If  you are trying to optimize your bandwidth on a variable, wide-open plethora of applications, then you may find yourself with extremely high maintenance costs by using a Layer-7 application shaper. A generic behavior-based product such as the NetEqualizer will do the trick.

7) Make sure  what looks elegant on the cover does not have hidden costs by doing a little research on the Internet.

Yes this is an obvious one too, but lest you forget your due diligence!

Before purchasing any traffic shaping solution  you should try a simple internet search with well placed keywords to uncover objective opinions. Current testimonials supplied by the vendor are a good source of information, but only tell half the story. Current customers are always biased toward their decision sometimes in the face of ignoring a better solution.

If you are not familiar with this technology, nor have the in-house expertise to work with a traffic shaper, you may want to consider buying additional bandwidth as your solution.  In order to assess if this is a viable solution for you, we recommend you think about the following: How much bandwidth do you need ? What is the appropriate amount for your ISP or organization?  We actually dedicated a complete article to this question.

8) Are you a Windows Shop?  Do you expect a Microsoft-based solution due to your internal expertise?

With all respect to Microsoft and the strides they have made toward reliability in their server solutions, we believe that you should avoid a Windows-based product for any network routing or bandwidth control mission.

To be effective, a bandwidth control device must be placed such that all traffic is forced to pass through the device. For this reason, all manufacturers that we are aware of develop their network devices using a derivative of  Linux. Linux-based is based on Open Source, which means that an OEM can strip down the operating system to its simplest components.  The simpler operating system in your network device, the less that can go wrong.  However, with Windows the core OS source code is not available to third-party developers, hence an OEM may not always be able to track down serious bugs. This is not to say that bugs do not occur in Linux, they do, however the OEM can often get a patch out quickly.

For the Windows IT person trained on Windows, a well-designed networking device presents its interface via a standard web page.  Hence, a technician likely needs no specific Linux background.

9) Are you a CIO (or C level Executive) Looking to Automate and Reduce Costs ?

Bandwidth controllers can become a means to do cool things with a network.  Network Administrators can get caught up reading fancy reports, making daily changes, and interpreting results, which can become  extremely labor-intensive.  There is a price/benefit crossover point where a device can create more work (labor cost)  than bandwidth saved.  We have addressed this paradox in detail in a previous article.

10) Do you have  any Legal or Political Requirement to Maintain Logs or Show Detailed Reports to a Third-Party (i.e. management ,oversight committee, etc.)?

For example…

A government requirement to provide data wire taps dictated by CALEA?

Or a monthly report on employee Internet behavior?

Related article how to choose the right bandwidth management solution

Links to other bandwidth control products on the market.

Packet Shaper by Blue Coat

NetEqualizer ( my favorite)

Exinda

Riverbed

Exinda  Packet Shaper  and Riverbed tend to focus on the enterprise WAN optimization market.

Cymphonix

Cymphonix comes  from a background of detailed reporting.

Emerging Technologies

Very solid  product for bandwidth shaping.

Exinda

Exinda from Australia has really made a good run in the US market offering a good alternative to the incumbants.

Netlimiter

For those of you who are wed to Windows NetLimiter is your answer

Antamediabandwidth

Behind the Scenes on the latest Comcast Ruling on Net Neutrality


Yesterday the FCC ruled in favor of Comcast regarding their rights to manipulate consumer traffic . As usual, the news coverage was a bit oversimplified and generic. Below we present a breakdown of the players involved, and our educated opinion as to their motivations.

1) The Large Service Providers for Internet Service: Comcast, Time Warner, Quest

From the perspective of Large Service Providers, these companies all want to get a return on their investment, charging the most money the market will tolerate. They will also try to increase market share by consolidating provider choices in local markets. Since they are directly visible to the public, they will also be trying to serve the public’s interest at heart; for without popular support, they will get regulated into oblivion. Case in point, the original Comcast problems stemmed from angry consumers after learning their p2p downloads were being redirected and/or  blocked.

Any and all government regulation will be opposed at every turn, as it is generally not good for private business. In the face of a strong headwind, don’t be surprised if Large Service Providers might try to reach a compromise quickly to alleviate any uncertainty.  Uncertainty can be more costly than regulation.

To be fair, Large Service Providers are staffed top to bottom with honest, hard-working people but, their decision-making as an entity will ultimately be based on profit.  To be the most profitable they will want to prevent third-party Traditional Content Providers from flooding  their networks with videos.  That was the original reason why Comcast thwarted bittorrent traffic. All of the Large Service Providers are currently, or plotting  to be, content providers, and hence they have two motives to restrict unwanted traffic. Motive one, is to keep their capacities in line with their capabilities for all generic traffic. Motive two, would be to thwart other content providers, thus making their content more attractive. For example who’s movie service are you going to subscribe with?  A generic cloud provider such as Netflix whose movies run choppy or your local provider with better quality by design?

2) The Traditional Content Providers:  Google, YouTube, Netflix etc.

They have a vested interest in expanding their reach by providing expanded video content.  Google, with nowhere to go for new revenue in the search engine and advertising business, will be attempting  an end-run around Large Service Providers to take market share.   The only thing standing in their way is the shortcomings in the delivery mechanism. They have even gone so far as to build out an extensive, heavily subsidized, fiber test network of their own.  Much of the hubbub about Net Neutrality is  based on a market play to force Large Service Providers to shoulder the Traditional Content Providers’ delivery costs.  An analogy from the bird world would be the brown-headed cowbird, where the mother lays her eggs in another bird’s nest, and then lets her chicks be raised by an unknowing other species.  Without their own delivery mechanism direct-to-the-consumer, the Traditional Content Providers  must keep pounding at the FCC  for rulings in their favor.  Part of the strategy is to rile consumers against the Large Service Providers, with the Net Neutrality cry.

3) The FCC

The FCC is a government organization trying to take their existing powers, which were granted for airwaves, and extend them to the Internet. As with any regulatory body, things start out well-intentioned, protection of consumers etc., but then quickly they become self-absorbed with their mission.  The original reason for the FCC was that the public airways for television and radio have limited frequencies for broadcasts. You can’t make a bigger pipe than what frequencies will allow, and hence it made sense to have a regulatory body oversee this vital  resource. In  the early stages of commercial radio, there was a real issue of competing entities  broadcasting  over each other in an arms race for the most powerful signal.  Along those lines, the regulatory entity (FCC) has forever expanded their mission.  For example, the government deciding what words can be uttered on primetime is an extension of this power.

Now with Internet, the FCC’s goal will be to regulate whatever they can, slowly creating rules for the “good of the people”. Will these rules be for the better?  Most likely the net effect is no; left alone the Internet was fine, but agencies will be agencies.

4) The Administration and current Congress

The current Administration has touted their support of Net Neutrality, and perhaps have been so overburdened with the battle on health care and other pressing matters that there has not been any regulation passed.  In the face of the aftermath of the FCC getting slapped down in court to limit their current powers, I would not be surprised to see a round of legislation on this issue to regulate Large Service Providers in the near future.  The Administraton will be painted as consumer protection against big greedy companies that need to be reigned in, as we have seen with banks, insurance companies, etc…. I hope that we do not end up with an Internet Czar, but some regulation is inevitable, if nothing else for a revenue stream to tap into.

5) The Public

The Public will be the dupes in all of this, ignorant voting blocks lobbied by various scare tactics.   The big demographic difference on swaying this opinion will be much different from the health care lobby.  People concerned for and against Internet Regulation will be in income brackets that have a higher education and employment rate than the typical entitlement lobbies that support regulation.  It is certainly not going to be the AARP or a Union Lobbyist leading the charge to regulate the Internet; hence legislation may be a bit delayed.

6) Al Gore

Not sure if he has a dog in this fight; we just threw him in here for fun.

7) NetEqualizer

Honestly, bandwidth control will always be needed, as long as there is more demand for bandwidth than there is bandwidth available.  We will not be lobbying for or against Net Neutrality.

8) The Courts

This is an area where I am a bit weak in understanding how a Court will follow legal precedent.  However, it seems to me that almost any court can rule from the bench, by finding the precedent they want and ignoring others if they so choose?  Ultimately, Congress can pass new laws to regulate just about anything with impunity.  There is no constitutional protection regarding Internet access.  Most likely the FCC will be the agency carrying out enforcement once the laws are in place.

NetEqualizer Bandwidth Shaping Solution: Hotels & Resorts


In working with some of the world’s leading hotels and resorts, we’ve repeatedly heard the same issues and challenges facing network administrators. Here are just a few:

Download Hotels White Paper

  • We need to do more with less bandwidth.
  • We need a solution that’s low cost, low maintenance, and easy to set up.
  • We need to meet the expectations of our tech-savvy customers and prevent Internet congestion during times of peak usage.
  • We need a solution that can meet the demands of a constantly changing clientele. We need to offer tiered internet access for our hotel guests, and provide managed access for conference attendees.

In this article, we’ll talk about how the NetEqualizer has been used to solve these issues for many Hotels and Resorts around the world.

Download article (PDF) Hotels & Resorts White Paper

Read full article …

Comcast Suit: Was Blocking P2P Worth the Final Cost?


By Art Reisman
CTO of APconnections
Makers of the plug-and-play bandwidth control and traffic shaping appliance NetEqualizer

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

Comcast recently settled a class action suit in the state of Pennsylvania regarding its practice of selectively blocking of P2P.  So far, the first case was settled for 16 million dollars with more cases on the docket yet to come. To recap, Comcast and other large ISPs invested in technology to thwart P2P, denied involvment when first accused, got spanked by the FCC,  and now Comcast is looking to settle various class action suits.

When Comcast’s practices were established, P2P usage was sky-rocketing with no end in sight and the need to block some of it was required in order to preserve reasonable speeds for all users. Given that there was no specific law or ruling on the book, it seemed like mucking with P2P to alleviate gridlock was a rational business decision. This decision made even more sense considering that DSL providers were stealing disgruntled customers. With this said, Comcast wasn’t alone in the practice — all of the larger providers were doing it, throttling P2P to some extent to ensure good response times for all of their customers.

Yet, with the lawsuits mounting, it appears on face value that things backfired a bit for Comcast. Or did they?

We can work out some very rough estimates as the final cost trade-off. Here goes:

I am going to guess that before this plays out completely, settlements will run close to $50 million or more. To put that in perspective, Comcast shows a 2008 profit of close to $3 billion. Therefore, $50 million is hardly a dent to their stock holders. But, in order to play this out, we must ask what the ramifications would have been to not blocking P2P back when all of this began and P2P was a more serious bandwidth threat (Today, while P2P has declined, YouTube and online video are now the primary bandwidth hogs).

We’ll start with the customer. The cost of getting a new customer is usually calculated at around 6 months of service or approximately $300. So, to make things simple, we’ll assume the net cost of a losing a customer is roughly $300. In addition, there are also the support costs related to congested networks that can easily run $300 per customer incident.

The other more subtle cost of P2P is that the methods used to deter P2P traffic were designed to keep traffic on the Comcast network. You see, ISPs pay for exchanging data when they hand off to other networks, and by limiting the amount of data exchanged, they can save money. I did some cursory research on the costs involved with exchanging data and did not come up with anything concrete, so I’ll assume a P2P customer can cost you $5 per month.

So, lets put the numbers together to get an idea of how much potential financial damage P2P was causing back in 2007 (again, I must qualify that these are based on estimates and not fact. Comments and corrections are welcome).

  • Comcast had approximately 15 million broadband customers in 2008.
  • If 1 in 100 were heavy P2P users, the exchange cost would be $7.5 million per month in exchange costs.
  • Net lost customers to a competitor might be 1 in 500 a month. That would run $9 million a month.
  • Support calls due to preventable congestion might run another 1 out of 500 customers or $9 million a month.

So, very conservatively for 2007 and 2008, incremental costs related to unmitigated P2P could have easily run a total of $600 million right off the bottom line.

Therefore, while these calculations are approximations, in retrospect it was likely financially well worth the risk for Comcast to mitigate the effects of unchecked P2P. Of course, the public relations costs are much harder to quantify.

APconnections Announces 50-Percent-Off Sale of New NetEqualizer-Lite


Beginning May 26, all customers purchasing a full size NetEqualizer 2000/3000 model will qualify for a 50-percent discount on the NetEqualizer-Lite. In addition, the offer will be extended to all existing NetEqualizer users who will also be entitled to the 50-percent discount on their first NetEqualizer-Lite purchase. This offer is valid until June 30, 2009. Limit two per customer.

As well as offering users the same services available through previously released NetEqualizer models, the NetEqualizer-Lite is Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), handling up to 10 megabits of traffic and 200 users. Furthermore, the NetEqualizer-Lite also serves to solve hidden node issues without customers having to change their existing access points.*

Although the core technology behind the NetEqualizer has not changed, with the latest release price point, many ISPs and businesses are deploying the NetEqualizer-Lite closer to end users, often directly behind congested access points.

After just over a month in the field, NetEqualizer-Lite users are reporting they can now easily increase Internet subscribers by 30 to 50 percent at once congested towers and AP sites. For example, a customer with an 802.11b radio now has 100 subscribers on his network and is still running smoothly. In the past, this customer’s norm for saturation stood at roughly 20 users, but he is now enjoying a 500-percent increase after installing the NetEqualizer-Lite. This is translating into both higher revenues and a more satisfied customer base.

The NetEqualizer-Lite lists at $1499. In addition to the 50-percent discount, we are also currently offering volume discounts. Pricing information on all other NetEqualizer models is available online at http://www.netequalizer.com. For more information, please contact APconnections at 1-800-918-2763 or admin@apconnections.net.

*Hidden nodes are a problem frequently encountered by commercial wireless operators that has previously been solved using APconnections’ AirEqualizer technology. The NetEqualizer-Lite’s capability to offer similar solutions is simply one of the multiple benefits of the technology for administrators of networks of many different types and sizes.

New Asymmetric Shaping Option Augments NetEqualizer-Lite


We currently have a new release in beta testing that allows for equalizing on an asymmetric link. As is the case with all of our equalizing products, this release will allow users to more efficiently utilize their bandwidth, thus optimizing network performance. This will be especially ideal for users of our recently released NetEqualizer-Lite.

Many wireless access points have a limit on the total amount of bandwidth they can transmit in both directions. This is because only one direction can be talking at a time. Unlike wired networks, where a 10-meg link typically means you can have 10 megs UP and 10 megs going the other direction simultaneously, in  a wireless network you can only have 10 megabits total at any one time.  So, if you had 7 megabits coming in, you could only have 3 megabits going out. These limits are a hard saturation point.

In the past, it was necessary to create separate settings for both the up and down stream. With the new NetEqualizer release, you can simply tell the NetEqualizer that you have an asymmetric 10-megabit link, and congestion control will automatically kick in for both streams,  alleviating bottlenecks more efficiently and keeping your network running smoothly.

For more information on APconnections’ equalizing technology, click here.

NetEqualizer-Lite Revolutionizing WISP Performance


After just over a month in the field, NetEqualizer-Lite users are reporting they can now easily increase Internet subscribers by 30 to 50 percent at once congested towers and access point (AP) sites. For example, a customer with an 802.11 B radio now has 100 subscribers on his network and is still running smoothly. In the past, this customer’s norm for saturation stood at roughly 20 users, but he is now enjoying a 500-percent increase after installing the NetEqualizer-Lite. This is translating into both higher revenues and a more satisfied customer base.

Although the core technology behind the NetEqualizer has not changed, with the latest release price point, many users are deploying the NetEqualizer-Lite closer to customers or just behind their congested wireless access points. Customer satisfaction with the new release has been consistent across the board, with users voicing their reviews to us directly as well as online. One user on DSLReports.com commented:

“The Netequalizer has resulted in dramatically improved service to our customers….Bottom line to this is that we can deliver significantly more data through the same AP. The customers hitting web pages, checking e-mail, etc. virtually always see full bandwidth, and the hogs don’t impact these customers. Even the hogs see better performance” (dslreports.com).

In addition to offering users the same services available through previously released NetEqualizer models, the NetEqualizer-Lite is Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), handling up to 10 megabits of traffic and 200 users. Furthermore, the NetEqualizer-Lite also serves to solve hidden node issues without customers having to change their existing APs.*

The NetEqualizer-Lite lists at $1499, but we are currently offering volume discounts. Please contact us for more information at 1-800-918-2763 or admin@apconnections.net.

*Hidden nodes are a problem frequently encountered by commercial wireless operators that has previously been solved using APconnections’ AirEqualizer technology. The NetEqualizer-Lite’s capability to offer similar solutions is simply one of the multiple benefits of the technology for administrators of networks of many different types and sizes.
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