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.

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