Network Capacity Planning: Is Your Network Positioned for Growth?


Authored by:  Sandy McGregor, Director of Sales & Marketing for APConnections, Inc.
Sandy has a Masters in Management Information Systems and over 17 years experience in the Applications Development Life Cycle.  In the past, she has been a Project Manager for large-scale data center projects, as well as a Director heading up architecture, development and operations teams.  In Sandy’s current role at APConnections, she is responsible for tracking industry trends.

As you may have guessed, mobile users are gobbling up network bandwidth in 2010!  Based on research conducted in the first half of 2010, Allot Communications has released The Allot MobileTrends Report , H1 2010 showing dramatic growth in mobile data bandwidth usage in 2010- up 68% in Q1 and Q2.

I am sure that you are seeing the impacts of all this usage on your networks.  The good news is all this usage is good for your business, as a network provider,  if you are positioned to grow to meet the needs of all this growth!  Whether you sell network usage to customers (as a ISP or WISP) or “sell” it internally (colleges and corporations), growth means that the infrastructure you provide becomes more and more critical to your business.

Here are some areas that we found of particular interest in the article, and their implications on your network, from our perspective…

1) Video Streaming grew by 92% to 35% of mobile use

It should be no surprise that video steaming applications take up a 35% share of mobile bandwidth, and grew by 92%.  At this growth rate, which we believe will continue and grow even faster in the future, your network capacity will need to grow as well.  Luckily, bandwidth prices are continuing to come down in all geographies.

No matter how much you partition your network using a bandwidth shaping strategy, the fact is that video streaming takes up a lot of bandwidth.  Add to that the fact that more and more users are using video, and you have a full pipe before you know it!  While you can look at ways to cache video, we believe that you have no choice but to add bandwidth to your network.

2) Users are downloading like crazy!

When your customers are not watching videos, they are downloading, either via P2P or HTTP, which combined represented 31 percent of mobile bandwidth, with an aggregate growth rate of 80 percent.  Although additional network capacity can help somewhat here, large downloads or multiple P2P users can still quickly clog your network.

You need to first determine if you want to allow P2P traffic on your network.  If you decide to support P2P usage, you may want to think how you will identify which users are doing P2P and if you will charge a premium for this service. Also, be aware that encrypted P2P traffic is on the rise, which makes it difficult to figure out what traffic is truly P2P.

Large file downloads need to be supported.  Your goal here should be to figure out how to enable downloading for your customers without slowing down other users and bringing the rest of your network to a halt.

In our opinion, P2P and downloading is an area where you should look at bandwidth shaping solutions.  These technologies use various methods to prioritize and control traffic, such as application shaping (Allot, BlueCoat, Cymphonix) or behavior-based shaping (NetEqualizer).

These tools, or various routers (such as Mikrotik), should also enable you to set rate limits on your user base, so that no one user can take up too much of your network capacity.  Ideally, rate limits should be flexible, so that you can set a fixed amount by user, group of users (subnet, VLAN), or share a fixed amount across user groups.

3) VoIP and IM are really popular too

The second fastest growing traffic types were VoIP and Instant Messaging (IM).  Note that if your customers are not yet using VoIP, they will be soon.  The cost model for VoIP just makes it so compelling for many users, and having one set of wires if an office configuration is attractive as well (who likes the tangle of wires dangling from their desk anyways?).

We believe that your network needs to be able to handle VoIP without call break-up or delay.  For a latency-sensitive application like VoIP, bandwidth shaping (aka traffic control, aka bandwidth management) is key.  Regardless of your network capacity, if your VoIP traffic is not given priority, call break up will occur.  We believe that this is another area where bandwidth shaping solutions can help you.

IM on the other hand, can handle a little latency (depending on how fast your customers type & send messages).  To a point, customers will tolerate a delay in IM – but probably 1-2 seconds max.  After that,they will blame your network, and if delays persist, will look to move to another network provider.

In summary, to position your network for growth:

1) Buy More Bandwidth – It is a never-ending cycle, but at least the cost of bandwidth is coming down!

2) Implement Rate Limits – Stop any one user from taking up your whole network.

3) Add Bandwidth Shaping – Maximize what you already have.  Think efficiency here.  To determine the payback period on an investment in the NetEqualizer, try our new ROI tool.  You can put together similar calculations for other vendors.

Note:  The Allot MobileTrends Report data was collected from Jan. 1 to June 30 from leading mobile operators worldwide with a combined user base of 190 million subscribers.

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