The Real Killer Apps and What You Can Do to Stop Them from Bringing Down Your Internet Links

When planning a new network, or when diagnosing a problem on an existing one, a common question that’s raised concerns the impact that certain applications may have on overall performance. In some cases, solving the problem can be as simple as identifying and putting an end to (or just cutting back) the use of certain bandwidth-intensive applications. So, the question, then, is what applications may actually be the source of the problem?

The following article works to identify and break down the applications that will most certainly kill your network, but also provides suggestions as to what you can do about them. While every application certainly isn’t covered, our experience working with network administrators around the world has helped us identify the most common problems.

The Common Culprits

YouTube Video (standard video) — On average, a sustained 10-minute YouTube video will consume about 500kbs over its duration. Most video players try to store the video (buffer ahead) locally as fast as your network  can take it.   On a shared network, this has the effect of bringing everything else on your network to its knees. This may not be a problem if you are the only person using the Internet link, but in today’s businesses and households, that is rarely the case.

For more specifics about YouTube consumption, see these other Youtube articles.

Microsoft Service-Pack Downloads — Updates such as Microsoft service packs use file transfer protocol (FTP). Generally, this protocol will use as much bandwidth as it can find. The end result is that your VoIP phone may lock up, your video’s will become erratic, and Web surfing will come to a crawl.

Keeping Your Network Running Smoothly While Handling Killer Apps

There is no magic pill that can give you unlimited bandwidth, but each of  the following solutions may help. However, they often require trade offs.

  1. The obvious solution is to communicate with other members of your household or business when using bandwidth intensive applications. This is not always practical, but, if other users agree to change their behavior, it’s usually a surefire solution.
  2. Deploy a fairness device to smooth out those rough patches during contentious busy hours — Yes, this is the NetEqualizer News blog, but with all bias aside, these types of technologies often work great. If you are in an office sharing an Internet feed with various users, the NetEqualizer will keep aggressive bandwidth users from crowding others out. No, it cannot create additional bandwidth on your pipe, but it will eliminate the gridlock caused by your colleague  in the next cubicle  downloading a Microsoft service pack. Yes, there are other  devices on the market that can enforce fairness, but the NetEqualizer was specifically designed for this mission. And, with a starting price of around $1400, it is a product small businesses can invest in and avoid longer term costs (see option 3).
  3. Buy more bandwidth — In most cases, this is the most expensive of the different solutions in the long term and should usually be a last resort. This is especially true if the problems are largely caused by recreational Internet use on a business network. However, if the bandwidth-intensive activities are a necessary part of your operation, and they can’t afford to be regulated by a fairness device, upgrading your bandwidth may be the only long-term solution. But, before signing the contract, be sure to explore options one and two first.

As mentioned, not every network-killing application is discussed here, but this should head you in the right direction in identifying the problem and finding a solution. For a more detailed discussion of this issue, visit the links below.

  • For a  more detailed discussion on how much bandwidth specific applications consume, click here.
  • For a set of detailed tips/tricks on making your Internet run faster, click here.
  • For an in-depth look at more complex methods used to mitigate network congestion on a WAN or Internet link, click here.

Optimizing Your WAN Is Not The Same As Optimizing Your Internet Link — Here’s Why…

WAN optimization is a catch-all phrase for making a network more efficient. However, few products distinguish between optimizing a WAN link and optimizing an Internet link. Yet, the methods used for the latter do not necessarily overlap with WAN optimization. In this article, we’ll break down the differences and similarities between the two practices and explain why WAN optimization tends to be the more common, yet not necessarily most effective, of the two techniques when it comes to overall network optimization.

Some Basic Definitions

A WAN link is always a point-to-point link where an institution/business controls both ends of the link. However, a WAN link does not provide Internet access.

On the other hand, an Internet link is one where one end terminates in a business/home/institution and the other end terminates in the Internet cloud, thus providing the former with Internet access.

A VPN link is a special case of a WAN link where the link traverses across the public Internet to get to another location within an organization.  This is not an Internet link by our definition mentioned above.

Whether dealing with a small business, a home user, or public entities such as libraries, schools etc., there are far more Internet links out there than WAN links. Each of these entities will most certainly have a dedicated Internet link while many will not have a WAN link.

Some Common Questions

If Internet links far outnumber WAN links, why are there so many commercial products dedicated to optimizing WAN links and so few specifically dedicated to Internet optimization?

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. WAN optimization is fairly easy to measure and quantify, so a WAN optimization vendor can easily demonstrate their value by showing before and after results.
  2. Many WAN-based applications — Citrix, SQL queries, etc. — are inherently inefficient and in need of optimization.
  3. The market is flooded with vendors and analysts (such as Gartner) which all tend  to promote and sustain the WAN optimization market.
  4. WAN optimization tools also double as reporting and monitoring tools, which administrators gravitate toward.
  5. A large number of commercial Internet connection are located at Small or medium sized business and and the ROI on an optimization device for their Internet Link is either not that compelling or not understood.

Why is a WAN optimizing tool not the best tool to optimize an Internet link? Don’t the methodologies overlap?

Most of the methods used by a WAN optimizing appliance make use of two principles:

  1. The organization owns both ends of the link and will use two optimizing devices — one at each end. For example, compression techniques require that you own both ends of the link. As mentioned earlier, you cannot control both ends of an Internet link.
  2. The types of traffic running over a WAN Link are consistent and well defined. Organizations tend to do the same thing over and over again on their internal link. Yet, on an Internet link, the traffic varies from minute to minute and cannot be easily quantified.

So, how does one optimize unbounded traffic coming into an Internet link?

You need an appliance such as a NetEqualizer that dynamically manages over all flows for more information you can read. But,  don’t take it from us, you can also check in on what existing NetEqualizer users are saying.

How does a company quantify the cost of using a device to optimize their Internet link?

Admittedly, the results may be a bit subjective. The good news is that optimization companies will normally allow you to try an appliance before you buy. On the other hand, most Internet providers will require you to purchase a fixed length contract.

The fact of the matter is that an Internet link can be rendered useless by  a small number of users during peak times. If you blindly upgrade your contract to accommodate this problem, it is akin to buying gourmet lunches for some employees while feeding everybody else microwave popcorn. In the end, the majority will be unhappy.

While the appropriate network optimization technique will vary from situation to situaiton, Internet optimization appliances tend to work well under most circumstances and are worth implementing. Or, at the very least, they’re worth exploring before signing on to a long-term bandwidth increase with your ISP.

See: Related Discussion on Internet Congestion and predictability.

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