How Much Bandwidth Do You Really Need?


By Art Reisman – CTO – www.netequalizer.com

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

When it comes to how much money to spend on the Internet, there seems to be this underlying feeling of guilt with everybody I talk to. From ISPs, to libraries or multinational corporations, they all have a feeling of bandwidth inadequacy. It is very similar to the guilt I used to feel back in College when I would skip my studies for some social activity (drinking). Only now it applies to bandwidth contention ratios. Everybody wants to know how they compare with the industry average in their sector. Are they spending on bandwidth appropriately, and if not, are they hurting their institution, will they become second-rate?

To ease the pain, I was hoping to put a together a nice chart on industry standard recommendations, validating that your bandwidth consumption was normal, and I just can’t bring myself to do it quite yet. There is this elephant in the room that we must contend with. So before I make up a nice chart on recommendations, a more relevant question is… how bad do you want your video service to be?

Your choices are:

  1. bad
  2. crappy
  3. downright awful

Although my answer may seem a bit sarcastic, there is a truth behind these choices. I sense that much of the guilt of our customers trying to provision bandwidth is based on the belief that somebody out there has enough bandwidth to reach some form of video Shangri-La; like playground children bragging about their father’s professions, claims of video ecstasy are somewhat exaggerated.

With the advent of video, it is unlikely any amount of bandwidth will ever outrun the demand; yes, there are some tricks with caching and cable on demand services, but that is a whole different article. The common trap with bandwidth upgrades is that there is a false sense of accomplishment experienced before actual video use picks up. If you go from a network where nobody is running video (because it just doesn’t work at all), and then you increase your bandwidth by a factor of 10, you will get a temporary reprieve where video seems reliable, but this will tempt your users to adopt it as part of their daily routine. In reality you are most likely not even close to meeting the potential end-game demand, and 3 months later you are likely facing another bandwidth upgrade with unhappy users.

To understand the video black hole, it helps to compare the potential demand curve pre and post video.

A  quality VOIP call, which used to be the measuring stick for decent Internet service runs about 54kbs. A quality  HD video stream can easily consume about 40 times that amount. 

Yes, there are vendors that claim video can be delivered at 250kbs or less, but they are assuming tiny little stop action screens.

Couple this tremendous increase in video stream size with a higher percentage of users that will ultimately want video, and you would need an upgrade of perhaps 60 times your pre-video bandwidth levels to meet the final demand. Some of our customers, with big budgets or government subsidized backbones, are getting close but, most go on a honeymoon with an upgrade of 10 times their bandwidth, only to end up asking the question, how much bandwidth do I really need?

So what is an acceptable contention ratio?

  • Typically in an urban area right now we are seeing anywhere from 200 to 400 users sharing 100 megabits.
  • In a rural area double that rati0 – 400 to 800 sharing 100 megabits.
  • In the smaller cities of Europe ratios drop to 100 people or less sharing 100 megabits.
  • And in remote areas served by satellite we see 40 to 50 sharing 2 megabits or less.

How to Block Frostwire, utorrent and Other P2P Protocols


By Art Reisman, CTO, http://www.netequalizer.com

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

Disclaimer: It is considered controversial and by some definitions illegal for a US-based ISP to use deep packet inspection on the public Internet.

At APconnections, we subscribe to the philosophy that there is more to be gained by explaining your technology secrets than by obfuscating them with marketing babble. Read on to learn how I hunt down aggressive P2P traffic.

In order to create a successful tool for blocking a P2P application, you must first figure out how to identify P2P traffic. I do this by looking at the output data dump from a P2P session.

To see what is inside the data packets I use a custom sniffer that we developed. Then to create a traffic load, I use a basic Windows computer loaded up with the latest utorrent client.

Editors Note: The last time I used a P2P engine on a Windows computer, I ended up reloading my Windows OS once a week. Downloading random P2P files is sure to bring in the latest viruses, and unimaginable filth will populate your computer.

The custom sniffer is built into our NetGladiator device, and it does several things:

1) It detects and dumps the data inside packets as they cross the wire to a file that I can look at later.

2) It maps non printable ASCII characters to printable ASCII characters. In this way, when I dump the contents of an IP packet to a file, I don’t get all kinds of special characters embedded in the file. Since P2P data is encoded random music files and video, you can’t view data without this filter. If you try, you’ll get all kinds of garbled scrolling on the screen when you look at the raw data with a text editor.

So what does the raw data output dump of a P2P client look like ?

Here is a snippet of some of the utorrent raw data I was looking at just this morning. The sniffer has converted the non printable characters to “x”.
You can clearly see some repeating data patterns forming below. That is the key to identifying anything with layer 7. Sometimes it is obvious, while sometimes you really have work to find a pattern.

Packet 1 exx_0ixx`12fb*!s[`|#l0fwxkf)d1:ad2:id20:c;&h45h”2x#5wg;|l{j{e1:q4:ping1:t4:ka 31:v4:utk21:y1:qe
Packet 2 exx_0jxx`1kmb*!su,fsl0’_xk<)d1:ad2:id20:c;&h45h”2x#5wg;|l{j{e1:q4:ping1:t4:xv4^1:v4:utk21:y1:qe
Packet 3 exx_0kxx`1exb*!sz{)8l0|!xkvid1:ad2:id20:c;&h45h”2x#5wg;|l{j{e1:q4:ping1:t4:09hd1:v4:utk21:y1:qe
Packet 4 exx_0lxx`19-b*!sq%^:l0tpxk-ld1:ad2:id20:c;&h45h”2x#5wg;|l{j{e1:q4:ping1:t4:=x{j1:v4:utk21:y1:qe

The next step is to develop a layer 7 regular expression to identify the patterns in the data. In the output you’ll notice the string “exx” appears in line, and that is what you look for. A repeating pattern is a good place to start.

The regular expression I decided to use looks something like:

exx.0.xx.*qe

This translates to: match any string starting with “exx” followed, by any character “.” followed by “0”, followed by “xx”, followed by any sequence of characters ending with “qe”.

Note: When I tested this regular expression it turns out to only catch a fraction of the Utorrent, but it is a start. What you don’t want to do is make your regular expression so simple that you get false positives. A layer 7 product that creates a high degree of false positives is pretty useless.

The next thing I do with my new regular expression is a test for accuracy of target detection and false positives.

Accuracy of detection is done by clearing your test network of everything except the p2p target you are trying to catch, and then running your layer 7 device with your new regular expression and see how well it does.

Below is an example from my NetGladiator in a new sniffer mode. In this mode I have the layer 7 detection on, and I can analyze the detection accuracy. In the output below, the sniffer puts a tag on every connection that matches my utorrent regular expression. In this case, my tag is indicated by the word “dad” at the end of the row. Notice how every connection is tagged. This means I am getting 100 percent hit rate for utorrent. Obviously I doctored the output for this post :)

ndex SRCP DSTP Wavg Avg IP1 IP2 Ptcl Port Pool TOS
0 0 0 17 53 255.255.255.255 95.85.150.34 — 2 99 dad
1 0 0 16 48 255.255.255.255 95.82.250.60 — 2 99 dad
2 0 0 16 48 255.255.255.255 95.147.1.179 — 2 99 dad
3 0 0 18 52 255.255.255.255 95.252.60.94 — 2 99 dad
4 0 0 12 24 255.255.255.255 201.250.236.194 — 2 99 dad
5 0 0 18 52 255.255.255.255 2.3.200.165 — 2 99 dad
6 0 0 10 0 255.255.255.255 99.251.180.164 — 2 99 dad
7 0 0 88 732 255.255.255.255 95.146.136.13 — 2 99 dad
8 0 0 12 0 255.255.255.255 189.202.6.133 — 2 99 dad
9 0 0 12 24 255.255.255.255 79.180.76.172 — 2 99 dad
10 0 0 16 48 255.255.255.255 95.96.179.38 — 2 99 dad
11 0 0 11 16 255.255.255.255 189.111.5.238 — 2 99 dad
12 0 0 17 52 255.255.255.255 201.160.220.251 — 2 99 dad
13 0 0 27 54 255.255.255.255 95.73.104.105 — 2 99 dad
14 0 0 10 0 255.255.255.255 95.83.176.3 — 2 99 dad
15 0 0 14 28 255.255.255.255 123.193.132.219 — 2 99 dad
16 0 0 14 32 255.255.255.255 188.191.192.157 — 2 99 dad
17 0 0 10 0 255.255.255.255 95.83.132.169 — 2 99 dad
18 0 0 24 33 255.255.255.255 99.244.128.223 — 2 99 dad
19 0 0 17 53 255.255.255.255 97.90.124.181 — 2 99 dad

A bit more on reading this sniffer output…

Notice columns 4 and 5, which indicate data transfer rates in bytes per second. These columns contain numbers that are less than 100 bytes per second – Very small data transfers. This is mostly because as soon as that connection is identified as utorrent, the NetGladiator drops all future packets on the connection and it never really gets going. One thing I did notice is that the modern utorrent protocol hops around very quickly from connection to connection. It attempts not to show it’s cards. Why do I mention this? Because in layer 7 shaping of P2P, speed of detection is everything. If you wait a few milliseconds too long to analyze and detect a torrent, it is already too late because the torrent has transferred enough data to keep it going. It’s just a conjecture, but I suspect this is one of the main reasons why this utorrent is so popular. By hopping from source to source, it is very hard for an ISP to block this one without the latest equipment. I recently wrote a companion article regarding the speed of the technology behind a good layer 7 device.

The last part of testing a regular expression involves looking for false positives. For this we use a commercial grade simulator. Our simulator uses a series of pre-programmed web crawlers that visit tens of thousands of web pages an hour at our test facility. We then take our layer 7 device with our new regular expression and make sure that none of the web crawlers accidentally get blocked while reading thousands of web pages. If this test passes we are good to go with our new regular expression.

Editors Note: Our primary bandwidth shaping product manages P2P without using deep packet inspection.
The following layer 7 techniques can be run on our NetGladiator Intrusion Prevention System. We also advise that public ISPs check their country regulations before deploying a deep packet inspection device on a public network.

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.

What Does it Cost You Per Mbs for Bandwidth Shaping?


Sometimes by using a cost metric you can distill a relatively complicated thing down to a simple number for comparison. For example, we can compare housing costs by Dollars Per Square Foot or the fuel efficiency of cars by using the Miles Per Gallon (MPG) metric.  There are a number of factors that go into buying a house, or a car, and a compelling cost metric like those above may be one factor.   Nevertheless, if you decide to buy something that is more expensive to operate than a less expensive alternative, you are probably aware of the cost differences and justify those with some good reasons.

Clearly this makes sense for bandwidth shaping now more than ever, because the cost of bandwidth continues to decline and as the cost of bandwidth declines, the cost of shaping the bandwidth should decline as well.  After all, it wouldn’t be logical to spend a lot of money to manage a resource that’s declining in value.

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to looking at bandwidth shaping on a cost per Mbs basis. Alternatively, I could look at bandwidth shaping on a cost per user basis, but that metric fails to capture the declining cost of a Mbs of bandwidth. So, cost per Mbs it is.

As we’ve pointed out before in previous articles, there are two kinds of costs that are typically associated with bandwidth shapers:

1) Upfront costs (these are for the equipment and setup)

2) Ongoing costs (these are for annual renewals, upgrades, license updates, labor for maintenance, etc…)

Upfront, or equipment costs, are usually pretty easy to get.  You just call the vendor and ask for the price of their product (maybe not so easy in some cases).  In the case of the NetEqualizer, you don’t even have to do that – we publish our prices here.

With the NetEqualizer, setup time is normally less than an hour and is thus negligible, so we’ll just divide the unit price by the throughput level, and here’s the result:

I think this is what you would expect to see.

For ongoing costs you would need to add all the mandatory per year costs and divide by throughput, and the metric would be an ongoing “yearly” per Mbs cost.

Again, if we take the NetEqualizer as an example, the ongoing costs are almost zero.  This is because it’s a turn-key appliance and it requires no time from the customer for bandwidth analysis, nor does it require any policy setup/maintenance to effectively run (it doesn’t use policies). In fact, it’s a true zero maintenance product and that yields zero labor costs. Besides no labor, there’s no updates or licenses required (an optional service contract is available if you want ongoing access to technical support, or software upgrades).

Frankly, it’s not worth the effort of graphing this one. The ongoing cost of a NetEqualizer Support Agreement ranges from $29 (dollars) – $.20 (cents) per Mbs per year. Yet, this isn’t the case for many other products and this number should be evaluated carefully. In fact, in some cases the ongoing costs of some products exceed the upfront cost of a new NetEqualizer!

Again, it may not be the case that the lowest cost per Mbs of bandwidth shaping is the best solution for you – but, if it’s not, you should have some good reasons.

If you shape bandwidth now, what is your cost per Mbs of bandwidth shaping? We’d be interested to know.

If your ongoing costs are higher than the upfront costs of a new NetEqualizer and you’re open to a discussion, you should drop us a note at sales@apconnections.net.

Does Lower cost bandwidth foretell a decline in Expensive Packet Shapers ?


This excerpt is from a recent interview with Art Reisman and has some good insight into the future of bandwidth control appliances.

Are you seeing a drop off in layer 7 bandwidth shapers in the marketplace?

In the early stages of the Internet, up until the early 2000s, the application signatures were not that complex and they were fairly easy to classify. Plus the cost of bandwidth was in some cases 10 times more expensive than 2010 prices. These two factors made the layer 7 solution a cost-effective idea. But over time, as bandwidth costs dropped, speeds got faster and the hardware and processing power in the layer 7 shapers actually rose. So, now in 2010 with much cheaper bandwidth, the layer 7 shaper market is less effective and more expensive. IT people still like the idea, but slowly over time price and performance is winning out. I don’t think the idea of a layer 7 shaper will ever go away because there are always new IT people coming into the market and they go through the same learning curve. There are also many WAN type installations that combine layer 7 with compression for an effective boost in throughput. But, even the business ROI for those installations is losing some luster as bandwidth costs drop.

So, how is the NetEqualizer doing in this tight market where bandwidth costs are dropping? Are customers just opting to toss their NetEqualizer in favor of adding more bandwidth?

There are some that do not need shaping at all, but then there are many customers that are moving from $50,000 solutions to our $10,000 solution as they add more bandwidth. At the lower price points, bandwidth shapers still make sense with respect to ROI. Even with lower bandwidth costs  users will almost always clog the network with new more aggressive applications. You still need a way to gracefully stop them from consuming everything, and the NetEqualizer at our price point is a much more attractive solution.

Related article on Packeteers recent Decline in Revenue

Related article Layer 7 becoming obsolete from SSL

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.

Update 2015

Note : We are seeing quite a bit of Encryption on  common applications. We strongly recommend avoiding layer 7 type devices for public Internet traffic as the accuracy is diminishing due to the fact that encrypted traffic is UN-classifieble , a heuristics based behavior based approach is advised

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

The True Price of Bandwidth Monitoring


By Art Reisman

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

For most IT administrators, bandwidth monitoring of some sort is an essential part of keeping track of, as well as justifying, network expenses. Without visibility into a network load, an administrator’s job would degrade into a quagmire of random guesswork. Or would it?

The traditional way of  looking at monitoring your Internet has two parts: the fixed cost of the monitoring tool used to identify traffic, and the labor associated with devising a remedy. In an ironic inverse correlation, we assert that costs increase with the complexity of the monitoring tool. Obviously, the more detailed the reporting tool, the more expensive its initial price tag. The kicker comes with part two. The more expensive the tool, the more  detail  it will provide, and the more time an administrator is likely to spend adjusting and mucking, looking for optimal performance.

But, is it a fair to assume higher labor costs with  more advanced monitoring and information?

Well, obviously it would not make sense to pay more for an advanced tool if there was no intention of doing anything with the detailed information it provides. Why have the reporting tool in the first place if the only output was to stare at reports and do nothing? Typically, the more information an admin has about a network, the more inclined he might be to spend time making adjustments.

On a similar note, an oversight often made with labor costs is the belief  that when  the work needed to adjust the network comes to fruition, the associated adjustments can remain statically in place. However, in reality, network traffic changes constantly, and thus the tuning so meticulously performed on Monday may be obsolete by Friday.

Does this mean that the overall productivity of using a bandwidth tool is a loss? Not at all. Bandwidth monitoring and network mucking can certainly result in a cost-effective solution. But, where is the tipping point? When does a monitoring solution create more costs than it saves?

A review of recent history reveals that technologies with a path similar to bandwidth monitoring have become commodities and shunned the overhead of most human intervention.  For example, computer operators disappeared off the face of the earth with the invention of cheaper computing in the late 1980’s.  The function of a computer operator did not disappear completely, it just got automated and rolled into the computer itself. The point is, anytime the cost of a resource is falling, the attention and costs used to manage it should be revisited.

An effective compromise with many of our customers is that they are stepping down from expensive complex reporting tools to a simpler approach. Instead of trying to determine every type of traffic on a network by type, time of day, etc., an admin can spot trouble by simply checking overall usage numbers once a week or so. With a basic bandwidth control solution in place (such as a NetEqualizer), the acute problems of a network locking up will go away, leaving what we would call only “chronic” problems, which may need to be addressed eventually, but do not require immediate action.

For example, with a simple reporting tool you can plot network usage by user.  Such a report, although limited in detail, will often reveal a very distinct bell curve of usage behavior. Most users will be near the mean, and then there are perhaps one or two percent of users that will be well above the mean. You don’t need a fancy tool to see what they are doing; abuse becomes obvious just looking at the usage (a simple report).

However, there is also the personal control factor, which often does not follow clear lines of ROI (return on investment).

What we have experienced when proposing a more hands-off model to network management is that a customer’s comfort depends on their bias for needing to know, which is an unquantifiable personal preference. Even in a world where bandwidth is free, it is still human nature to want to know specifically what bandwidth is being used for, with detailed information regarding the type of traffic. There is nothing wrong with this desire, but we wonder how strong it might be if the savings obtained from using simpler monitoring tools were converted into a trip to Hawaii.

In our next article, we’ll put some real world numbers to the test for actual break downs, so stay tuned. In the mean time, here are some other articles on bandwidth monitoring that we recommend. And, don’t forget to take our poll.

List of monitoring tools compiled by Stanford

Planetmy
Linux Tips
How to set up a monitor for free

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 for a full price list.

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