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?
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.
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.)?
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 Packet Shaper and Riverbed tend to focus on the enterprise WAN optimization market.
Cymphonix comes from a background of detailed reporting.
Very solid product for bandwidth shaping.
Exinda from Australia has really made a good run in the US market offering a good alternative to the incumbants.
For those of you who are wed to Windows NetLimiter is your answer
Behind the Scenes on the latest Comcast Ruling on Net NeutralityApril 7, 2010 — netequalizer
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.
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.